Thousands of toys donated for Saint Joseph's Christmas in July

Care Force

- The thermometer doesn't feel like Christmas, but the spirit does at Tampa's Saint Joseph's Children Hospital during its annual Christmas in July toy drive.

It looked a lot like Christmas despite the sweltering heat.

Santa and his helpers, including Good Day's Walter Allen and Jen Epstein, greeted cars and trucks loaded with donated gifts for Saint Joe's Christmas in July campaign.

Noni Gurley began coming to the hospital when she was 18-months-old. Now, as an adult, she knows the importance of this toy drive.

"This toy drive is important to me because a lot of these kids live in this hospital," Noni said. "It helped me get through everything that I've been through: surgery, treatment, everything."

Thousands of kids, from babies to teens, check-in every year for surgery and long term care. News toys, games, dolls, and more make a world of difference.

Nurse Laura Zarlenga said distractions can make all the difference.

"Just five minutes of distraction for these kids that are stuck in the bed or in the hospital room, they can't go out. They're away from their home, their families," Laura said. "It just really makes a big difference."

Ordinary people, families, and big companies pitched in, donating thousands of toys.

Colin St. Piere works for Ameri Life, which brought over 6,000 toys to the hospital.

"We really challenge all of our offices," Colin said. "We issue a challenge to them and it kind of bloomed out of control."

Don Faehner brought more than a dozen teddy bears he traditionally uses as Christmas decorations around his home.

"We had children, grand children who have had problems, so we want to donate these," Don said.

A warm feeling on a hot day can brighten the spirits of kids in the hospital.

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