By Erika Webb
Nick Pizza showed up at his office in Deltona early Saturday morning for a planned event. He flipped the calendar sitting on the counter in the break room to Dec. 15.
A Bible scripture accompanies each date on his calendar. This day's was Mark 10: 14-15: "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these . . ."
Mr. Pizza smiled because this was the day he and other members of the community would provide Christmas gifts to local families in need.
Xavier and Olga Cintron stood outside the NPI Center in Deltona waiting their turn.
Inside other parents shopped for Christmas presents and food. No cash, checks, debit or credit cards were accepted.
Like a true Santa's workshop, there was a lot of scurrying. One room was filled with toys. Each table was labeled by age group. Small groups of parents were taken into the toy room, accompanied by a "personal shopper" volunteer who helped them choose their gifts. Then parents were taken into another room where more volunteers wrapped the gifts.
When the process was completed, parents headed out the door; huge bags filled with gifts were slung over their shoulders, irrepressible smiles stretched across their faces.
All of this was made possible by a collaboration of hearts, which Mr. Pizza said were brought together by God.
Youth Explosion for Christ, founded by Mr. Pizza, and Students Reach-Out Inc. have coordinated the event for the past two years, but for many years prior, these and several other groups and individuals, who now participate in this event, held toy drives on their own.
Mindy Rinne and others started Students-Reach Out over two decades ago. Heather Bowling was part of a group called Operation Magi. Carolyn Martin was a guidance counselor at Osteen Elementary. She's now retired and volunteers for the Kiwanis Club. The City of Deltona donated toys from their drive as did the Moose Lodge, which provides a building on its property for the Students-Reach Out food pantry. HAYGD (pronounced Hay God) Hispanic American Youth Group donated toys from their drive as well.
And Mr. Pizza? He walks around carrying a big umbrella under which he collects more causes to keep kids safe from the elements.
That umbrella is Youth Explosion For Christ, which spawned Saturday Night Alive -- a monthly music event for teens -- and Deltona Against Bullying.
Tunes for Toys, an annual concert event -- Dec. 1 this year -- to raise money and toys for this event, falls under that same umbrella.
Last year Mr. Pizza had plenty of toys collected but said he didn't have someone to organize a giveaway. So he did what he does. He prayed.
Then he got a phone call from Carolyn Martin who said, "We need a place to give away food and toys."
"We" was Students Reach-Out.
"It was an answer to a prayer for us and an answer to a prayer for him," Mindy Rinne said. "Through the combined efforts of so many we're able to reach so many in our community with Christmas."
Ms. Rinne said there was a bit of a panic among the ranks last year when Students Reach-Out found out, last minute, their giveaway venue was booked.
"Carolyn called Nick and told him we needed a place," Ms. Rinne said. "He said we could come here."
Local school counselors provide the recipient families, and there is a process in place to ensure those families are not being helped by other groups, Ms. Rinne said.
"We want to be sure we're meeting the needs of the community the best we can," she added.
Mr. Pizza said he is very happy with the joint effort.
"I didn't know how to do all of this. I just want to give," he said. "God knows your heart and knows how to bring these hearts together."
For Mr. and Mrs. Cintron, waiting out front on a cool December morning as the sun pushed a few clouds out of the way, this "means a lot."
This is the second time they've participated in the giveaway. The first time was four years ago. The couple has four children, ages 17, 16, 12 and 9. Mr. Cintron is working part time until he can find full-time employment. The couple said their income "isn't much."
"Every time we get the gifts from here I say it's from God," Ms. Cintron said. "We do what we can and my kids understand that. I say, 'What you see here is what mommy and daddy could do. Everything after that is from God.'"
Mr. Pizza said he likes that explanation.
And Ms. Martin, who has worked with Students Reach-Out from the beginning, still loves doing this event.
"Wouldn't you?" she said. "At this point, it wouldn't be Christmas without doing this. And just look how the needs have grown every year."
At the end of the day there were gifts remaining and those were donated to the United Methodist Children's Home in Enterprise.