When the former producer of the Marine Corps Toys for Tots show in Vegas, LJ Harness, moved back to St. Petersburg, he had a vision. “Keep the mission going on, supporting our Marine Corps in helping less fortunate families and children in the Tampa Bay area,” Harness, producer of Rockin’ for Tots, said.“That’s how we came up with the Tampa Bay Marine Corps Toys for Tots event.”
On Dec. 9, starting at 5:30 p.m. and ending after midnight, 12:30 a.m. Daiquiri Shak on Madeira Beach hosted the second annual Rockin’ For Tots, a Marine Corps-sponsored toy drive and benefit. After a year hiatus during the 2020 COVID outbreak, the event returned with local bands, an auction and, of course, Santa.
When guests arrived, they handed their admission (a new, unwrapped toy, or $20) to a host, who made sure the toys went into the pile of donations inside a gargantuan truck, all while local bands drummed, strummed and belted holiday tunes.
The owner of Daiquiri Shak, Jeremy Runo, chimed in on the charitable nature of the event.
“The other cool thing with the bands is their family, or families, really get involved and their friends all come out. It definitely adds a lot versus just bringing a toy and dropping it in a box,” Runo said. He added that every participating band performed for free. “So everything’s going toward the kids, which is really cool.”
The 2019 Drive collected $37,000 in donations, including toys and cash. This year, the organizers hope to bring in $50,000. Although donation boxes remain open until Dec. 15, the benefit already raised $15,000 in cash donations alone, according to Bennett.
The toys get collected, sorted, then distributed to families in need. According to Larry Bennett, associate producer of Rockin’ For Tots, the parents come to the distribution site without their children.
“The parents have to say the toys are either from them, or they’re from Santa,” Bennett said. “We want [the parents] to say it’s from them because our goal is to break the chain,” Bennett said.
Bennett believes Christmas’ giving nature and the pandemic circumstances will contribute to greater donations this year.
“I think Christmastime, everybody digs a little bit deeper and reaches a little bit further and without any doubt, I think because of what’s happened in our country and the pandemic – everybody is more apt to try more. But, anytime Christmas comes along, everybody wants to be involved,” Bennett said.