For the past seven years now, the folks at the First Baptist Church (Beach Baptist) have been collecting toys and donations to ensure all local kids have a great Christmas, and this year they’re at it again! Pastor Shawn Critser loves to play Santa, and he has sent out the call to all islanders to help celebrate God’s greatest gift to us – our children.
“We serve kids in and around the community regardless of the need,” said church Office Administrator Amanda Imhoff. “This year we’re also including the Fort Myers Women’s Shelter – ACT – in our Christmas gift celebration.”
Amanda told us that the toy drive began seven years ago at the behest of church member Mike DeCarlo, a man well known on our island for his philanthropic efforts and dedication to local kids.
“We always did something internally here at the church, but Mike saw there were kids in need and he and his wife, Lena Neroni, wanted to get involved so that’s how all this started,” she said. “Just before he died, he said he wanted to make sure that every kid got a bike, too – so we made sure that happened.”
After DeCarlo’s passing last year, his family and friends set up the non-profit Michael DeCarlo Foundation to help local children and families. That organization holds fundraisers throughout the year – the next one being the annual ‘We Ride for a Reason’ Poker Run at Junkanoo on December 13th – and now partners with Beach Baptist for their toy drive.
“We are supported by the community, church members and the Mike DeCarlo Foundation,” Amanda told us. “Anyone who wants to help is asked to drop off an unwrapped toy or donation to the church office at 130 Connecticut Street.”
Once all the toys are gathered, the fun begins on December 18th at Junkanoo, where everyone is invited to help wrap the gifts.
“Junkanoo will be supplying pizza to all of Santa’s ‘elves’ who help out that night,” Amanda told us. “We’re also accepting donations of wrapping paper and tape.”
The big party and celebration for local kids will be at Beach Baptist on December 20th at 7pm, where children and parents will be treated to a night of Christmas giving.
“Mr. and Mrs. Santa will be there, as will all the elves, and the kids will get to decorate cookies and ‘shop’ for and wrap a special gift for their parents,” said Amanda. “And of course, Santa and his elves will be giving away all the presents!”
Keri Hendry Weeg