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Christmas 'elves' hit one century of toymaking in St. Pete

After missing 2020 due to COVID, the toymakers of The Christmas Toy Shop return to mark 100-years of giving gifts to children in need.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Joyce Surplus isn’t sure how much longer she’ll be driving. The Largo woman recently moved to a new retirement home. It’s 16 miles away from the place she’s made a home-away-from-home for the last 15 years.

But, she’s not letting a little thing like distance keep her from helping make Christmas happen for local children.

“I’m so happy I can still drive,” Surplus, who started volunteering at the Toy Shop in St. Petersburg at the suggestion of her children, said. “I am hoping I can still come here for a while.”

Surplus has done just about everything at The Christmas Toy Shop. She’s organized toy requests. She’s helped make sure distribution went smoothly each December. On Tuesday, she mixed and matched clothes for dolls.

“I think it’s wonderful,” she said.

Seated across from Surplus, Lois Schulz kept pace. She slipped a dress on a doll and added it to the pile. She’s been volunteering her time at The Christmas Toy Shop for eight years. She came down to Florida from Philadelphia in 1954.

“Not too many people who want to give their time to the community like we do,” she said. “Every week we look forward to coming here.”

Mary Brophy marveled at the dedication of the two women. She came in to help for the first time Tuesday and was pleased to hear stories from longtime volunteers who contributed to the 100-year mark left on the children of St. Petersburg.

“It brings tears to my eyes because how wonderful are people that they would want to do things like that?” said Brophy. “I admire them.”

Just across the room, photo collages of volunteers dotted white poster boards. One collage honored each of the ten decades of The Toy Shop. The styles and toy requests change over time.

Credit: Bobby Lewis

The mission never has.

“Our motto is ‘We Exist So No Child Would Be Without Christmas’,” Lynda Owen, who serves as President of the Board and has been helping run the place for 15 years, said. “Everybody knows what they’re doing. Most of them have been here longer than I have.”

Hundreds of toys have already been wrapped up in clear cellophane and stored on shelves this year. Across the storeroom sit dozens of brand new bicycles and some like-new ones as well, fixed up on the property by worthy mechanics. Inside the large workroom, men tinker with toy racecars while women rearrange pieces for Monopoly board games. It’s a production workshop that would make Santa himself proud.

“I would love a world of kindness and these people, they’re certainly amazing,” Brophy said. “I’m actually having fun playing dolls again.”

Surplus’ husband, Dan, passed away in May. He volunteered at The Toy Shop, too. He helped overhaul and test electronic elements to games needing to be refurbished. Their story is common – volunteers who show up at The Christmas Toy Shop tend to fall in love with the atmosphere and the mission there.

“We’re so sorry that we missed last year because of COVID,” Owen said. “We had to cancel. It killed me and everybody else around here but we’re going to make it better this year. We’re back.”

Credit: Bobby Lewis

Virginia (Ginny) Murray, Shirley Ayers, Mildred Nelson and Ginny Oliver are all some of the longest-tenured current volunteers at The Christmas Toy Shop. The toymakers celebrated a century at The Christmas Toy Shop with a luncheon on Tuesday. St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman attended and honored the 100-year impact with a Proclamation.

If you need toys, you can register between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Oct. 30, 31, and Nov. 6 at The Christmas Toy Shop located at 650 16th Street North in St. Petersburg. Toy distribution will be on Dec. 4, 5, and 11.

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