This Saturday, residents can leave toys in their mailboxes, on the curb or even hang them from the mailbox for the United Postal Service's 2012 Annual Letter Carrier Toy Drive.
The drive always nets thousands of toys for children and families in need in Lee County, said Debra Mitchell, spokesperson for USPS. Postal carriers are collecting new, unwrapped toys (no stuffed animals please).
"People are very generous here in Lee County," she said. "We distribute through the Salvation Army and the Bonita Springs Fire District for the Lee County Marine Corps League Toys For Tots. All the families are prequailified for the needs, and the great thing is they actually come and select the toys to get the right toys for their children, what the kids really want."
Besides the carrier drive, the Postal Service spearheads collections and efforts from numerous local businesses and smaller groups. In Cape Coral, that includes the Cornwallis Association (Cornwallis Real Estate).
"They were actually one of the biggest collection spots in the Cape," said Judy Bowler, who coordinates the Toys For Tots drive for Lee County.
She's been involved with Tots For Tots for the last 15 years.
'Santa Wish Lists' wanted
The Post Office is also now looking for more "Sants Wish Lists" from families in need, said USPS' Mitchell.
Operation Santa Mail is now on.
"This is our second year doing this; large cities throughout the U.S. have been doing it for many years," she said. "We look at every letter written to our area - from Everglades city to Punta Gorda - for lists. We do this before we give them to Santa, for children and families who are struggling, and I have benefactors who have signed up to adopt a letter. Then they go out and purchase some or all of what is being asked for by Santa, and return the items to the post office ready to mail from Operation Santa."
She is encouraging letter writers to drop off or send through the mail their wish lists to:
Operation Santa Mail
"Whether you are looking to do the help or receive the help, you can contact me at 573-9638," said Mitchell.
"My favorite part is meeting all the generous people who take the time and energy that make this program a success," she said.
There will be about 13,000 children served this year directly through the program and some toys actually go to some smaller community organizations, she said.
Cape Coral Eye Center/Tyson Eye, based in Cape Coral, is also a major sponsor and Santa's helpers.
"Over 25 employees are going to help receive and count the toys for the postal drive," Bowler said. "They are setting up on the 30th at Germain Arena at the Everblades Game to collect more Toys For Tots."
Belk Department Store also helped in a big way with the campaign kick-off in November, she said.
"On Dec. 1, they will host a charity event and car show from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Surfside Belk Store to donate and collect toys," she said. "And upcoming, Sea Tow is hosting the Annual Cape Coral Boat Parade Sunday, Dec. 16. When they go up and down the canals they will collect toys from the docks on the way."
"We also have many who do private parties, special parties who do toys for us." That includes those in the Cape and nearby North Fort Myers, including Old Bridge Village who does themed donations. "They are amazing - they are giving us 106 bicycles."
The following are drop off locations in the Cape Coral and North Fort Myers areas. For more locations throughout Southwest Florida, you can go online to fort-myers-fl.toysfortots.org. Or you can send a check to Toys For Tots, P.O. Box 152033, Cape Coral FL 33915.
Besides the mailbox drop Saturday, you can drop off at these locations by Dec. 13 or at any Walgreens through Dec. 19. The local locations with corresponding zip codes are:
Belk, BJ's, Breeze Newspapers, Caloosa Middle School, Cape Coral Charter School, Cape Coral Eye Center, Century 21, Champion Self Storage, Community Bank of Cape Coral, Community Self Storage, Compass Construction, Dellutri Law Group, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Florida Gulf Bank, Foster's Grille, Hey Baby Music, Hollywood Bicycle Shop, Kathryn's Salon & Day Spa, Menchie's, Merry Maids, Pizza Depot, Realmark Devel. Corp, Salon Santinas, Sea Tow, Sip & Send Wine & Gift, Stevie Tomato's, Team Aubuchon, Technical Service, Tech Venture Real Estate, Walgreen's Pharmacies, State Farm and Advance Auto Parts
North Fort Myers
Big Lots, Cape Coral Eye Center, Heron's Glen, Merchant Lynx Service, Old Bridge Yacht Club, Pine Lakes, Pioneer Motor Home, RV Park NFM, Shell Factory/Rosie's Gourmet, Sonic, Tattoo Artistry, Uncle Bob's Storage, Walgreen's Pharmacies and State Farm
If you want to make a credit card donation, you can do so online, and all funds will go directly into Lee County Toys For Tots, Bowler said. "Or you can send a check to Toys For Tots, P.O. Box 152033, Cape Coral, FL 33915."