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Toy drive brings holiday cheer to kids

Patients in a children’s hospital in Hollywood and students at a nonprofit educational center in Immokalee and a South Bay elementary school received plenty of holiday cheer and toys thanks to the Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc.’s annual toy drive sponsored by Seminole Gaming.

Kyla Davis, STOF Inc. marketing director, said the drive brought in about 650 toys this year. Tribal and Gaming employees were among those who helped with the drive. Toys made it into the hands of kids in December, starting with young patients at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital on Dec. 6.

From left, Hollywood Board Rep. Gordon Wareham, Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola, Miss Florida Seminole Cheyenne Kippenberger and President Mitchell Cypress bring a present to a young patient at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital on Dec. 6 in Hollywood. Toys from the Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc. toy drive were given to several patients. Toys from the drive were also delivered and distributed to kids in Immokalee and South Bay. (Photo Derrick Tiger)

Each year many children in the U.S. have to spend the holidays in hospitals like Joe DiMaggio’s. Whether it is for injuries, diseases, and/or other heath related problems. A hospital is not the most ideal place to celebrate Christmas. By simply being paid a visit from Santa a child’s outlook on their current condition can be improved, and help them in their recovery. A kind gesture of holiday spirit, such as that provided by the toy drive, can help them during the season of perpetual hope.

President Mitchell Cypress and Santa Claus spread the joy of Christmas at the hospital with assistance from Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola, Hollywood Board Rep. Gordon Wareham, Miss Florida Seminole Cheyenne Kippenberger and Tribal employees as gifts were handed out to patients, many of them in bed. The gifts brought smiles to children of all ages as well as their families.

Norman “Skeeter” Bowers and Billie Tiger hand out toys to girls at Rosenwald Elementary School in South Bay as part of the STOF Inc. toy drive which included assistance from the We Do Recover Program. About 300 students received toys. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

The toy drive team began handing out gifts on the first floor and kept the holiday cheer moving to the upper floors. In true gift giving fashion Christmas cards with sentiments from different Tribal departments such as the Boys and Girls Club and the Seminole Police Department accompanied the toys.

Five days later the toy drive’s caravan arrived in Immokalee, where toys were unloaded for the Guadalupe Center, an organization whose mission is to create “endless possibilities for the students of Immokalee through education and fostering personal and academic success that leads to economic independence.”

As William Jumper and Stanley Cypress look on, a Rosenwald Elementary School student shows his appreciation. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

The following day – Dec. 12 – it wasn’t Santa’s sleigh that arrived at Rosenwald Elementary School in South Bay, but rather We Do Recover’s white Ford F350, which pulled into the parking lot with a trailer full of giant boxes of toys in tow.

“We like giving. We’re blessed with what we have so we like to share with people who aren’t as (fortunate),” said We Do Recover program supervisor Charlie Tiger, who was accompanied by other members of the program who helped set up tables and hand out toys alongside Board staff and Rep. Wareham.

A new basketball is given to a young patient at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood thanks to Santa and the Seminole Tribe of Florida Inc. toy drive. (Photo Derrick Tiger)

Rosenwald principal Dionne Napier said the school was thrilled to be selected by STOF Inc., especially because a group of students had returned with rave reviews from a field trip to Big Cypress the previous month.

“Some of our students went to the reservation and visited the (Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki) museum in November. They loved it,” Napier said. “So when my assistant principal Miss Matthews said she received the email (about the toy drive), I was very happy they thought of us because they honestly could have gone to any school. As you could see from the students’ reactions, they were very excited.”

Members of We Do Recover and the Guadalupe Center in Immokalee unload a treasure trove of gifts for local children Dec. 11. The Guadalupe Center’s Jorge Perez carries two bikes with training wheels and Tribal member Johnny Jimmie wrangles two large boxes filled with goodies from the truck that was packed with more than 550 Christmas gifts. The Guadalupe Center serves more than 1,000 children from infancy through college. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

Indeed, the students’ faces lit up when they saw tables full of toys and goodies. Every student in the school – from kindergarten through 5th grade – picked out one toy each and received holiday candy. The respectful students made sure to thank all who made it possible. In all, nearly 300 students received toys.

“We are a Title 1 school and we’re 99 percent free and reduced lunch. Some of our students’ families may have some hardships, but they send them with their best and we try to teach our students to be grateful for what they have and to always think about others,” Napier said.

(Senior Editor Kevin Johnson also contributed to this story).

Former Miami Dolphins star O.J. McDuffie is joined by Santa and Tribal Council and Board leaders at the toy drive. (Photo Derrick Tiger)
President Mitchell Cypress and Miss Florida Seminole Cheyenne Kippenberger pose for a photo with the staff of the Boys and Girls Club at the toy drive collection area. (Photo Derrick Tiger)
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