A generous community can always best the Christmas Grinch. When two Tampa Bay charities, Toys for Tots and Carrollwood restaurateur Alex Cooks' annual bicycle giveaway, fell on hard times, the public immediately came to their aid to ensure that less fortunate families will still receive a Christmas surprise.
Toys for Tots is the U.S. Marine Corps' signature charitable event, but contributions hit an all-time low this year after the struggling U.S. Postal Service was unable to deliver a notice that it would pick up donations left at residents' mailboxes. As a result, Toys for Tots found itself tens of thousands of toys short, including a 100,000-toy deficit in Hillsborough County alone.
Cooks has collected donations at Alex's Southern Style Bar-B-Q for 13 years that have enabled the businessman to buy 20,000 new bicycles for deserving families. But this year thieves broke into his business and made off with a collection jar filled with $700.
But with a little publicity, donations have begun to descend on Toys for Tots, with area businesses stepping up to provide discounts and free services in return for a toy donation. And Cooks has seen a groundswell of support from the community, including the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office with a contribution of 55 bikes donated by Walmart, bringing the total to 850 bicycles for families this holiday season.
Even as Tampa Bay continues to struggle in the wake of the Great Recession, its generous spirit remains. And that is something to celebrate.