When Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs took office in 2011, she decided to create a county-facilitated toy drive to support the region’s partner agencies and make a positive impact in the community every holiday season. As a result, Holiday Heroes Toy Drive was quickly implemented, and children all over the county have been its happy benefactors ever since.
In its first year, Holiday Heroes Toy Drive was responsible for the donation of approximately 1,500 toys. Last year, more than 4,000 toys were donated to various organizations including Orange County Neighborhood Centers for Families, Orange County Public Schools Homeless Program, The Community Food and Outreach Center, Wraparound Orange and Toys for Tots.
“It’s a very successful and worthwhile program,” Orange County Community, Environmental and Development Services Director John Weiss says. “The entire county comes together every year for a great cause, and a lot of kids benefit from that collective effort.”
Weiss, an East Orlando resident, is familiar with project management, so when he volunteered to facilitate a portion of the 2012 toy drive he knew he was bringing some practical experience to the table. Additionally, since 2007, he and his wife Brandy have donated more than 3,100 toys to various holiday toy drives. The mayor’s initiative was an opportunity to take those efforts to a new level.
“My wife and I are both lucky to have fond memories of Christmas,” Weiss says. “We’ve always wanted to create similar memories, not only for our children, but for all kids who may be in less-than-ideal situations for the holidays.”
Every year, Weiss puts together internal teams to coordinate efforts with partner agencies across the county. Procuring, storing and distributing thousands of toys requires logistics, and Weiss enjoys the challenge of working with his colleagues to make sure everything goes smoothly.
“Timing is critical because each resource agency has its own distribution schedule and deadline, so we need to get things started ahead of time,” he explains. “Orange County commits to giving a certain amount of toys to each agency, and we take that commitment very seriously.”
Most of the toys come through employee giving, but collection sites are also located at designated locations throughout the county, including Orange County Fire Rescue stations and the Orange County Administration Building.
Weiss has overseen many county programs and is familiar with the needs of the community. It has been satisfying work for him personally, but he insists that this is about Mayor Jacob’s philosophy of county employees giving back to the community, especially as a public service entity. As a whole, Orange County employees share that value of giving back.
“The stories you hear from the toy distribution centers are truly inspiring,” Weiss says. “Many county staff members burst into tears relaying stories about people’s reactions when they come to pick up the toys. It’s about the kids, and it’s about the work the county is doing for the kids.”