Kathy MacKinnon of Beggins Century 21 in Indian Rocks Beach sits on one of the many bicycles she collected for the annual Homeowners Toy Drive.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Anyone who has had business at the Century 21 Beggins Real Estate Office in Indian Rocks Beach in the past week or so has had to be somewhat nimble getting into the place. The front lobby and the conference room were jam-packed with toys, all for a good cause.
Two years ago Kathy MacKinnon of Beggins discovered that the IRB Homeowners Association needed somewhere to store the gifts for their annual toy drive.
“I volunteered right off the bat,” she said. “I can remember when I was a kid at Christmas and how important the toys were. Every kid needs to get something at Christmas.”
This year MacKinnon decided to do something on a larger scale. She began soliciting donations for bicycles and her front lobby was a testament to how successful her campaign had been, there just wasn‘t any room to move around at all, just a narrow walkway to get back to the office area. “I’m sure we have 20 bikes. I know when I asked people to either donate or give a bike they were quick to respond,” she said.
The homeowners toy drive began in 2006. Current President Becky Griffin said it began with a big decorating party in Chic-A-Si Park where they served hot chocolate and showed holiday movies outside.
“But that got to be too much work,” she said. “So we decided to concentrate on getting toys for children who need them.”
For the past several years they have given the toys to Grace House, a housing program run by Religious Community Services in Clearwater. Grace House provides temporary shelter to homeless families. The number of children who receive gifts from the toy drive depends on the number of families being housed by Grace House.
This year it is different.
“This year we are splitting the donations between Grace House and the American Legion in Madeira Beach,” said Griffin. “They provide gifts and help to Veterans’ families through the VA at Bay Pines. Especially in need are the 30 families of Reservists who are overseas right now. It is particularly hard on them financially.”
Griffin said the number of children helped by the Legion last year was 120, this year 225. “We have no objection to helping them at all,” she said. “In fact we have been helping our military for quite a while now. Every year we send boxes of essential goods over to them. Just recently a veteran who came back from overseas presented us with a flag that had flown over one of their missions as a thanks to us.”
The toys that were dominating the space at the real estate office on Gulf Boulevard are not a nuisance according to MacKinnon.
“Our company has always been active in the community,” she said. “Helping people is something that has to be done. Many of the bikes here today have been bought by our associates, people who have children and grandchildren of their own. It is so difficult to think that some child might not have one, so we do what we can.”
Helping people. said Griffin, gives those who help a sense of achievement.
“It does make us feel good. Last year at the end of the night we looked at it and said to one another it does feel like we’ve made a difference. It is nice when we’re able to build a picnic table for a park, but helping children gives you a much better feeling, it makes you feel good and we’re having fun doing it.”
The toy drive for this year is finished; the toys that had been collected were distributed on Thursday, Dec. 13. But next year they will do it all again. Griffin said she hopes MacKinnon will take the lead again next year, to which MacKinnon replied, “if the homeowners and the city want me, we’re here.”