By Samantha Joseph
TREASURE COAST -- The hundreds of runners who showed up for the YMCA's "jingle bell run" helped make Christmas merry for children across four counties.
About 325 adults and 65 children signed up for the race by the YMCA of the Treasure Coast, which included drives to collect toys and sneakers for children from low-income families.
"It was phenomenal. It was the best year we've had," said Christina Wood, program director of the YMCA of the Treasure Coast.
"I'm just astounded by the amount of toys and shoes donated."
Supporters donated enough toys to fill 80 extra-large gift bags with several presents for children in YMCA programs. Organizers also had so much left over they donated puzzles and board games to the Council on Aging, pet supplies to the Humane Society and more than 1,000 toys to children at Safe Space, the domestic violence shelter in Stuart and Vero Beach.
Donors also gave more than 40 pairs of sneakers and cash to take preschoolers shopping for new shoes.
"Everything stayed in the community," Ms. Wood said. "We give the items to parents and allow them the opportunity to give their kids a good Christmas. It's rewarding for everyone to be part of lighting up a child's Christmas."
Children from Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Okeechobee counties benefitted from the fundraiser.
The event was also a chance for the group to raise public awareness about its work across the region, providing several services including day care for children from preschool to high school.
The nonprofit focuses on health and recreation, providing summer camps, swimming lessons and sports programs that include basketball, soccer, archery, flag football, cheerleading, gymnastics and hockey.
It needs to raise about $200,000 each year to cover the cost of its programs.
Now in its fourth year, organizers said this "jingle bell run" was the most successful, attracting people of all ages and levels of athleticism.
Among those participating was YMCA member Mike Manning.
"I'm not a runner, but I run this event every year because it feels good to support my local Y and what they do for our local families in need," Mr. Manning said.
For more information on the YMCA, visit www.Ymcatreasurecoast.org.