By Donald Wittkowski
With less than three weeks to go before Christmas, Santa Claus is getting a huge helping hand from a local charity and a venerable Ocean City hotel.
A table in the lobby of the Port-O-Call Hotel brimmed Tuesday night with hundreds of toys of virtually every type imaginable – Teddy bears, Barbie doll sets, Star Wars action figures, dinosaurs, miniature trucks, boxes of crayons, coloring books and much, much more.
This Christmas largesse stems from an annual toy drive that pairs the Port-O-Call with the Ocean City Waves of Caring charity.
A Who’s Who of the Ocean City political, business and social scene turned out Tuesday night for a private holiday party and charity event that celebrated the partnership between Waves of Caring and the Port-O-Call.
“It’s growing every year,” Jim Smith, Ocean City’s fire chief and chairman of Waves of Caring, said of the event, now in its ninth year. “I think it’s because of the quality of the people who are attending it. Plus, the Port-O-Call outdoes itself by putting out a great spread.”
More than 150 people packed the party, a record number. While walking through the hotel lobby, they passed by the table that was crowded with all of the toys, as well as gift certificates and other donations, made to Waves of Caring to help needy local families.
Beth Pruzinsky, the Port-O-Call’s controller and one of the organizers of the toy drive, could only guess at the number of donated items collected by the hotel staff.
“There are several hundred toys,” she said. “There are also some gift certificates, coats and books that have been donated. But the majority is toys.”
Pruzinsky and Smith thanked Port-O-Call’s owners for their support of the toy drive. The ownership group includes brothers Michael and James Scully and Michael’s daughter, Jessica Scully, Pruzinsky said.
The Port-O-Call, a landmark at 15th Street and the Boardwalk since 1966, is affectionately known as the “Pink Lady” for its distinctive color scheme.
The hotel started its partnership with Waves of Caring 23 years ago. Pruzinsky said Port-O-Call is the largest single donator to the toy drive.
“It’s the kind of company that encourages everybody on the staff of the hotel to help out the charity,” she said.
Port-O-Call’s toy collection started modestly in 1993, consisting of a donation bin at a small employee holiday party. Now, the hotel’s donations cover more than half of the expenses that are required to run the Waves of Caring annual toy drive, Smith said.
“We couldn’t be more grateful to have them as a major supporter – and we look forward to joining forces to help others less fortunate once again in 2016,” Smith said in a statement.
Nearly 400 toys and $2,700 in monetary donations were collected during the record-breaking 2015 event. Glenn Losch, the Port-O-Call’s general manager, noted that everyone is hopeful of setting a new record in 2016.
“The true spirit of giving was alive and well, which is why our event is so important to the management and staff at the Port-O-Call Hotel,” Losch said in a statement. “We look forward to another wonderful event this year and for many years to come.”
Waves of Caring is a city-sanctioned charity that collects and distributes toys and other gifts around the Christmas holiday for children of underprivileged Ocean City families. It has also launched a new program, called “Holiday Helpings,” to provide holiday meals for needy local families.