Boshamps collecting toys, gifts for area kids

Savannah Vasquez
Casey Kent, left and Heather Swanson stand by the truck for the Fill The Truck event at Boshamps Seafood and Oyster House in Destin. The donation event benefits Toys For Tots and Homelessness and Housing Alliance. [SAVANNAH VASQUEZ/THE LOG]

Three years ago, Casey Kent of Boshamps Seafood and Oyster House was volunteering at a pizza party for Opportunity Place in Fort Walton Beach when a child came up to her to show off his Halloween costume.

"This little kid told me about his Halloween costume and he was so proud of it," she said. "Then we found out that a lot of kids in the shelter didn’t have costumes, so that year we started a Halloween costume drive."

One thing led to another, and later that same year Kent learned that the Toys for Tots drive had come up short with donations for the shelter and unless someone acted fast, there would be no Christmas gifts for the kids.

"The Toys for Tots cutoff date was already over, so I came back to work and talked with (Boshamps owner) Miller Phillips and within 30 minutes we came up with the Fill Up The Truck idea," Kent said.

The community answered generously, and ever since Fill Up the Truck has become an annual tradition at Boshamps.

"Last year was the biggest year so far. We got three U-Hauls full of toys," Kent said. "We are hoping to do that again this year!"

Maggie Tomecek, deputy director for the Homelessness and Housing Alliance, said the partnership with Fill Up The Truck has been a huge help for the non-profit at Christmastime.

"Prior to us getting involved with Boshamps we worked with some angel trees and it was very scattered and hard to work with," she said. "Working with Casey and Boshamps has allowed us to reach more families.

"We are extremely grateful for all their help with their donation efforts," Tomecek said.

Fill Up The Truck accepts any new unwrapped toy regardless of price point, and this year there is an added focus on teens.

"This year we are trying to get gift cards for teenagers," Kent said. "You would be very surprised how many unaccompanied high school students there are in our area right now."

The Boshamps toy drive accepts cash and gift cards from area department stores such as Walmart and Target, grocery stores and even gas cards.

"We are working with guidance counselors at Fort Walton Beach and Choctawhatee high schools to get the teens placed with gift cards," Kent said.

Both Kent and Tomecek agreed that the heart of Fill Up The Truck is to make sure that no child or teen in the Emerald Coast area is without a gift on Christmas Day.

"Seeing the kids' faces is the most rewarding part," Kent said. "One year, we were delivering toys at a church and a homeless family came out of the woods. The kids were really reserved, but we said ‘Pick out a toy,’ and their faces just lit up."