For the last three or four years, the Carver Recreation Center was packed full of children at the annual Bush Family Toy Drive, but that still isn’t good enough for Lisa Williams.
“I’m going to Winter Haven, Lake Wales, Lakeland, throughout Bartow, Mulberry and Fort Meade,” she said finding families for the drive, which is scheduled from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 21.
With the Carver center filled with toys every year and, this year, Williams, the chairman of the event, said there is something new.
“There’s going to a pre-party for the kids,” she said.
Beginning about 1 p.m., there will be games for the kids to play where the children can win prizes. Games, she said, similar to “Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader.”
“We just want to be more positive for the kids,” she said.
With the theme of “Providing Every Child with a Smile,” the event just keeps getting larger, much to Williams’ surprise and glee. To one child who has been there every year, Williams asked last year, if you have everything you want, why do you come every year.
“He said he has a lot of fun here,” she said.
Donors seem to come back every year, but Williams said they are always looking for more. She is currently in the process of making boxes to drop off in businesses where people can put in items to be given away to children at the event. And, of course, she is looking for sponsors. This year, she said, one of the sponsors, Krispy Kreme from Orlando, is donating doughnuts and MidFlorida Credit Union has signed on to help.
“That’s 16 banks,” she said.
The toy drive, which may be the largest in terms of attendance in Polk County, was started by the Bush family and named for the late Bartow resident who was a preacher and the owner of a dry cleaning store. He is perhaps most known for his generosity where he was constantly helping. He not only delivered toys to children for Christmas, but he also paid for college for people in the community.
“When he died in 2008, 14 people came to us at the funeral and said they would have never finished college if it wasn’t for him,” Marshall Bush said last year.
It was about three years before Willie Bush died that his family turned his trips to needy families to help them at Christmas into the toy drive. Marshall Bush said they suggested to him why not set up the toy drive and have people come to them instead of traveling around and helping those in need.
It started slowly with only two or three people showing up the first year. The second year there were about 500 people who attended. There were about 600 the third year and about 1,000 have shown up every year since.
And, the spirit of Christmas really shows at the event. At last year’s event during the raffle where children patiently waited to see if their number was called, Amazien Darby, a 13-year-old, won a bicycle. When he went to get it, he saw that it may be a little small for him and almost immediately he pointed into the stands and gave the bicycle a 5-year-old Chasetin Willis.