By Donald Wittkowski
A steady stream of people entering the lobby of the Port-O-Call Hotel on Tuesday night kept handing bags of toys and other gifts to Beth Pruzinsky.
Pruzinsky, in turn, would stack the gifts on a pile of hundreds of toys that was growing higher and higher with each minute.
“So far, it looks like we have more toys than last year,” said Pruzinsky, the hotel’s controller. “We brought out an extra bin and it’s all full. Everybody brings more than one gift now.”
The Santa Claus-like largesse was part of an annual toy drive and holiday party, benefiting Ocean City’s needy children, that pairs the Port-O-Call with a local charity called Waves of Caring.
The partnership between the hotel and Waves of Caring began in 1993, turning what was then a modest toy drive launched by the Port-O-Call’s employees at a holiday party into a communitywide outpouring of gift giving.
“The first year we had it, it was an employee gift bin. Now, they’re bringing bags and bags of toys. It’s great,” said Pruzinsky, one of the organizers of the drive. “I think they’re excited to contribute so many toys that will stay right here in Ocean City.”
Jim Smith, Ocean City’s fire chief and the chairman of the Waves of Caring board of directors, noted that between 100 and 185 local children would receive gifts from the toy drive.
Although Ocean City is generally viewed as a well-to-do shore town of beachfront homes and trendy downtown boutiques, Smith said there are some pockets of poverty.
“Yes, it’s an affluent town. But there are a lot of families that are struggling just to get by,” he said in an interview.
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 works with different organizations in town to extend a helping hand of donated food, clothing and holiday gifts through the Ocean City Ecumenical Council, a coalition of churches.
The Port-O-Call served as the venue Tuesday night for a holiday party to collect the toys and celebrate the partnership with Waves of Caring. A packed crowd representing leaders of the city’s political, business and social scene gathered in the hotel’s Adelene restaurant.
Smith, who has been with Waves of Caring for 24 years, thanked the Port-O-Call and the community for their support over the years. He emphasized that all of the gifts and monetary donations collected during the toy drive stay in Ocean City.
“One hundred percent of all of our money goes back to the community,” he said. “There’s zero overhead for us.”
This was the 10th anniversary for the toy drive party. However, the Port-O-Call’s general manager, Glenn Losch, told the crowd it was the last one scheduled at the hotel. Afterward, he said it was time for the party to shift to another location after spending 10 years at the Port-O-Call.
In remarks to the crowd, Losch stressed that the hotel and its owners, the Scully family, are still firmly committed to the toy drive and other charitable efforts through the partnership with Waves of Caring.
“It’s been a great honor working with Waves of Caring,” he said.
The hotel’s ownership group includes brothers Michael and James Scully and Michael’s daughter, Jessica Scully, who serves as president, Pruzinsky said.
The iconic Port-O-Call, affectionately known as the “Pink Lady” for its distinctive hue, has been a fixture at 15th Street and the Boardwalk since 1966.
People walking through the hotel lobby Tuesday night passed a table brimming with stuffed animals, dolls, games, miniature trucks, balls and many more toys and gifts. Someone donated a bike. Gift certificates and cash donations were also accepted.
“There are a lot of gifts here. I’m going to say it’s in the hundreds,” Pruzinsky said.