How does one say thank you to a community that has given so much? To say thank you doesn’t come close to expressing what’s truly in our hearts.


Christmas Countdown – Tuesday, November 29, 2011, contributions for the annual Big Brothers Big Sisters Christmas party began to commence. Eric Jewell from KTK 98.5 radio station donated the first gifts collected by the radio station for our toy drive. Thank you Eric and KTK 98.5 for your efforts and contribution to the children in our program; we are extremely grateful!


Tuesday night, staff soon realized that there was a massive shortage of gifts. In an organization that services over 300 kids, there were only 40 toys available to distribute. The daunting realization that some children would potentially go without a Christmas gift caused some contemplation of cancelling the Christmas party altogether, considering it was that Friday, December 2nd. Despite some doubt that we could obtain so many toys in so little time, BBBS decided to walk on faith. Every year this celebration gives presents to the many families in our program who greatly appreciate and need them. As a result Big Brothers Big Sisters sought other options, as John Bonacci was not willing to cancel the Christmas Party. At this stage, Big Brothers Big Sisters had only three days left to find the necessary amount of presents for all of the children and were searching for a miracle.

The countdown continues. John immediately contacts Rebecca Lakkis, Board President of Big Brothers Big Sisters and the rest of the Board. Ms. Lakkis reaches out to UF colleagues Christine Simpson of the UF Foundation and Margaret Gaylord of UF Warrington College of Business who arranged a toy drive and miraculous arrived within the next 2 days with TRUCKLOADS of gifts for our children. Thank you so much for your bountiful hearts and helping our event be the success that it truly was. The next step was to further publicize the urgency in getting enough presents for the kids. John makes a call to TV 20. Mike Gismondi from TV 20 comes to BBBS and interviews John on the toy shortage so as to help direct more community attention towards the approaching event. He came to the office and took pictures of the toys we had and informed the community via TV coverage and newspaper announcement, just how badly BBBS could use their help to better spread Christmas cheer to our children. Mike spent the next two days interviewing Board members and staff. His coverage was broadcast the same night and a public service announcement appeared in newspaper the next day. People came from everywhere to assist with our cause. An employee of Cox Cable Company viewed the TV broadcast and came the next day to BBBS, asked what our needs were and later brought bags and bags of toys. He said that the broadcast had really touched his heart and that he and his family decided that they would do what they could to help the children in our program. And they really came through. Thank you so much Mr. Scott Phillips. A UF Student, who also saw the broadcast, unified her club and in one day orchestrated an entire toy drive, also bringing in many bags of toys by that Friday morning. A UF teacher gave extra credit to her students who either volunteer to help wrap toys, bring in a toy and/or work at the Christmas Party. Friday afternoon she personally brought in the bags of toys collected from her and her students. Thank you, thank you, Ms. Kate Fletcher. They are so many other stories as to how our community came together to save Christmas for our BBBS Christmas Party. And one more story to show how this domino effect circulated in Gainesville. A cashier from Wal-Mart who after hearing a woman in the checkout line, tell someone she was buying toys for the children in BBBS because she saw the broadcast in TV 20 that there was a shortage, led that other person add gifts to her shopping cart as well, to donate to BBBS. After ringing up their purchases the cashier felt moved to do the same. Once she clocked out, she too bought gifts and arrived at BBBS with a few bags of toys. She said that in her heart she could not let go the opportunity to do something to help BBBS with their cause. The Boys and Girls Club, a partner of BBBS donated their surplus so that all the children could receive toys. Thank you, Keith Blanchard, for your generosity in providing toys for our toy drive. Based on broadcasts by TV 20, the public announcement, word of mouth and the kindness of the Gainesville community, between Thursday and Friday there was an enormous amount of additional toys. Without Mike’s tenacious efforts and his commitment to deliver a heartfelt message that allowed a community to come together and bring the Christmas spirit to our agency on 13th Street, we would not have been successful. Mike is an energetic and amazing young man (a God sent) who also delivered truckloads of toys himself that Thursday and Friday. He was greeted with a lot a tears from BBBS staff, and there are truly no words, none, that can express how thankful we are to Mike Gismondi of TV 20. Mike, you are incredible.

And let’s not forget our Board of Directors. In the past we have mentioned in our newsletters that we have the most fantastic members a Board could have. But this Christmas season, that statement falls short. They too were amazing in coming through for BBBS. They donated money, toys, but most important, they donated themselves by assisting us pick up toys, checks, food, and helped us service our families at the Christmas Party. Thank you, you are truly remarkable.

Big Brothers Big Sisters would like to humbly thank the many contributors to the success of the Christmas celebration. Our goal was to collect at least 300 gifts, but a surplus of about 3-4 times as much was received during this toy drive. The office was overwhelmed by Christmas spirit as so many bags of gifts were donated that there was difficulty finding places to stack them all. The community outreach and response, as well as friends and staff members who assisted are all greatly appreciated! Our staff, volunteers and interns who worked hard to get the gifts wrapped for the Christmas Party and who worked the Christmas Party, please know that we couldn’t have done without you. Thank You!

As a result, our party was an enormous success. Many kids receive more than one gift and tears of joy streamed down the checks of parents who didn’t think they would be able to give their children a Christmas at all. They were so incredibly thankful for the giving of fellow members of our community. But this year we went a step further. Families who had heard the broadcast or read about the toy drive, and who were having a hard time getting their children Christmas gifts called us, and we were able to assist them with gifts for their children. By December 23rd all the gifts donated to BBBS had been distributed to our families and to those in need in our community. What a joyous time for us; what a blessing to have received such a bounty of gifts and to be able to help our community in a time when so many had lost their jobs or were truly in need of a Christmas Miracle.

The outpour of community unification and Christmas spirit, witnessed by Big Brothers Big Sisters was so incredible. A special thanks to everyone that passed forward a spirit of giving during this holiday season, being a part in a “God sent miracle” manifested in the giving hearts of so many {see names below}. If we’ve left anyone out, please email and the announcement will be made on our next newsletter.

“In the history of BBBS, or since I’ve been here, we have never collected this many toys. I cannot fathom the miracle we witnessed during this Christmas season. The emotions we went through in seeing a community come together for our kids was utterly miraculous. I still choke up when I look back, almost in disbelief at how God worked in the hearts of this community by bringing so much joy to those that benefitted from their bounteousness. To realize that when people are given a chance to do something that benefits others, there is no economy too low that can stop them when unified. This was a blessing that words cannot express. Thank you, Gainesville, thank you everyone, for your generosity and may God continue to bless all of you in abundance”, commented Ada Del Gais. John Bonaci stated, “In a season of giving, it was heart warming to see the outpouring of support from the community to ensure that our children had a holiday to remember. In a time when we do not have enough volunteers to match with all of our children on the waiting list, these kids need to know that someone out there cares about making their life better, and that’s what we’re all about.”

Again, Thank you!!!

Rebecca Lakkis
TV 20, Mike Gismondi
TV 20, Paige Beck
Margaret Gaylord
Christine Simpson
Keith Blanchard
Kate Fletcher
Kipp Hayes
Dennis Franklin
Jeremy Staun
Keith Westbrook
Larry Hartfield
Leon Larson
Paige Allison
Sarah Catalanotto
Andy Wilcox
Betsy Albury
Bill Salus
Carly Barnes
Carol Ninehan
Carolyn Brown
Charna Cohn
Christopher Atkinson
Clifford Hayes
Cynthia Butler
Cynthia Frenchman
David Brown
Deanne Moler
Deborah Lundy
Debra Vance- Skaff & William Skaff
Diane Heaney
Dr. Christopher James
Edward Jones
Eloise Sramek
Emily Young
George Cawthon
James Heaney
Janet Witte
Janice Green
Jeanne McNulty
Karen Whitney
Kate Gruber
Katherine Peterson
Kathy Croley
Kimberly Brown
Kristin Bird
Linda Duncan
Lynne Vaughan
Mark & Russell
Marte House
Mary Paxton
Melissa Atyeo
Nancy Burns
Paul Maren
Paul Robell
Paula Fussell
Richard Wojtowicz
Romina Serrano
Ron Peebles
Roxie Gordon
Scott Philips
Sharon Abare
Sharon Larkin
Sharon Wojtowicz
Sheila Forehand
Susan Gair
Susan Robell
Sylvia Maggio
Travis Godwin
William McCormick