Toys for Tots of Lee County is once again asking for the public's help in providing local children in need with Christmas gifts for the holidays.
The campaign kicked off Friday evening with a car show and children's activities at The Shops at Surfside. Judy Bowler, the coordinator for Lee County, was setting up the last of the drop boxes on Friday afternoon.
"We have a couple hundred drop offs to make it easy for people to donate," she said.
Toys for Tots asks for people to donate new, unwrapped toys for children from age 13 to infancy. Donations can be dropped off at any one of the drop boxes in the county or left out for postal carriers to pick up in December.
"We do a big postal drive," Bowler said. "On Dec. 1, they can leave a toy by their mailbox and the mail carrier will pick it up."
"All toys collected are distributed to Lee County needy children," she said.
It is hardest to get donated toys for children age 7 and up.
"They forget about teens and pre-teens," Bowler said. "Every child deserves a shiny new toy for the Christmas season."
Candy will not be accepted.
Last year, about 45,000 to 50,000 toys were distributed locally to more than 12,000 children. Each recipient gets an average of three toys, including puzzles and books, under the Salvation Army's Christmas Cheer program.
According to Bowler, families are pre-qualified for the program, then one parent visits the collection site and picks the toys for their child.
"This way they're able to pick out just the right toy for their children," she said, adding that it keeps Santa going. "We don't hand them to the children."
The need for Toys for Tots gets greater every year.
"More people are finding it touch to make ends meeting," Bowler said.
"Every toy is important," she said.
Cathy Norwood, store manager for the Cape Coral Belk, explained that she reached out to Toys for Tots so they could participate in the program. There is a drop box set up inside the The Shops at Surfside store for visitors who want to donate toys.
"It's just a really really good cause," she said.
As part of Toys for Tots, Tyson Eye of Cape Coral Eye Center will provide 100 free eye exams to local children in need and free glasses as needed.
"We have been doing this for several years now," Dr. Suzi Martin, a practice consultant, said. "We decided to do the charity here in Lee County."
The center has six locations in Lee County, with drop boxes at each one.
"I'm very aware of the fact that if children can't see, they can't read," she said, adding that students then cannot learn and pass to the next grade.
"We need to go above and beyond giving toys," Martin said.
The exams are scheduled during the winter school break, with the aim to get the new glasses in children's hands before the start of the new year.
"So children can pick them up before they go back to school," she said.
Toys for Tots of Lee County is sponsored by the Pfc. Paul E. Ison Marine Corps League, Detachment 60. For information or to make a cash donation toward the program, visit online: fort-myers-fl.toysfortots.org.