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Updated: 12/21/2013 08:00:00AM

Christmas party Saturday

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Adrieane Thomas, 7, tries to figure out what to pick from the table at the last year's Willie Bush Family Toy Drive at the Carver Recreation Center. The event this year is Saturday.


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There’s a big Christmas party going on Saturday and though more than 1,000 children are anticipated will show up, there are plenty who don’t know about it.

For the sixth year, the Bush Family Foundation Toy Drive will take place at the Carver Recreation Center all afternoon. It started small, but for the last three years it has reached four figures in the number of kids attending it. Much to her surprise, Lisa Williams, one of the organizers said this week she was surprised there were elementary schools in Bartow that didn’t know about the event.

“I’ve talked to different people who don’t even know about it,” said Williams. “I went to the schools and they were so happy because they have kids that don’t have Christmas. And for this anybody can go, just show up.”

This isn’t just a Bartow event. It draws kids and families from all over Polk County. Williams said the group has gone to Winter Haven, Mulberry, Fort Meade, Lake Wales and Lakeland to draw in people. It could be the largest attended Christmas celebration in the county.

One of the reasons is because it is free and easy.

“The thing I like is, you don’t need to register,” she said. “There’s food, fun and games and giveaways.”

There are some new additions this year, such as a new photographer to take photographs free of charge. Plus while the party starts at 1 p.m., there will be a pre-party show that will feature a game show modeled on “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?” where children can win prizes. There will also be a basketball game where children can shoot hoops for prizes.

In a break from previous years, when gifts usually came at the end of the four-hour party, there will be a new approach.

“We’ll give away gifts from beginning to end,” Williams said.

She said this is all about fun and games for the kids because for many this may be on the only time they celebrate Christmas.

“For a lot of kids this could be all there is,” she said. “Some will get toys, some may not ,but they all know it’s a party.”

While Williams says there might be some who could go home without a present, the likelihood is slim. The donations are huge. Businesses such as Simply Storage, State Farm, Florida Credit Union, Peterson Cleaners and dozens of others donated from the small to large. In fact, year after year the Carver Rec Center’s basketball court is lined with tables with hundreds of gifts that are given away in a sometimes hours-long raffle drawing at the end of the day.

When the donations are counted up at the end of the final week, Marshall Bush, the son of whom the drive is named for, makes sure there’s enough stuff.

“The Bush family makes up the difference,” she said.

“We do a count on Friday morning and then the Bush family will write a check. They wait until the end and see what we have,” she said.

This year, Williams said, there’s a little more concentration on what’s been collected because they know with the outreach they’ve done there bound to be more kids than they’ve had in the past.

“We’re trying to concentrate on how many toys because we’re going to have more kids this year.”

The drive was started by the Bush family and is named for the late Bartow resident Willie Bush 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.

It was about three years before Willie Bush died his family started to help needy families at Christmas into the toy drive. Willie would take toys to the children. Marshall 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, but the second year there were about 500 people that attended.

It rose about 100 the third year and approximately 1,000 have shown up every year since.

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