Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Lake Club residents grant Manatee children's Christmas wishes

The Lake Club Santa's Sleigh Project supports 80 children in need at the Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County.

The Lake Club's Maureen Cozzi, Fran Berg and Joy Stone wrap gift cards to give to families at the Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County.
The Lake Club's Maureen Cozzi, Fran Berg and Joy Stone wrap gift cards to give to families at the Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County.
Photo by Liz Ramos
  • East County
  • Neighbors
  • Share

Although The Lake Club’s Maureen Cozzi won’t be able to meet the children from the Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County benefitting from the Lake Club Santa’s Sleigh Project, she feels like she knows each one. 

The Lake Club Santa’s Sleigh Project brings The Lake Club residents together to grant children’s holiday wishes. 

Through the 80 children’s wishlists, Cozzi, who organized and led the project this year, was able to learn about each of the children. 

She learned how much a girl loves art based on her wishlist, which included canvases, colored pencils and paint brushes.

Margie Meyer wraps the last gift needed for the Lake Club Santa's Sleigh project.
Photo by Liz Ramos

Another girl said she loves all things mermaids and her favorite color is purple, so Cozzi found a purple mermaid tail and a mermaid doll to give her. A boy who loves Pokemon received a Pokemon shirt and Pokemon trading cards.

When the project was complete Dec. 4, a tree in the Lake Club clubhouse had 80 giant gift bags filled with gifts for children at the Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County. 

“It would be easy to just write a check or give a donation but this makes it all way more personal,” Cozzi said. 

Dawn Stanhope, the president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County, said she is “blown away” by The Lake Club’s generosity. 

“You would think these are their own kids and grandkids they are shopping for, and I think they have a lot of fun doing it,” Stanhope said. 

The Santa’s Sleigh project will remind children there are people who care, Stanhope said. 

“If there’s anything we can do to make an impact, it’s about bringing that hope and opportunity to our young people and letting them know whatever they’re going through, it’s temporary and they have a bright future ahead of them,” she said. 

Cozzi said the Santa’s Sleigh project is different from other holiday efforts because each of the gifts is tailored to the specific child. 

The Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County staff members talk to each of the children to learn what they would like for the holidays. They also gather other information such as their favorite color and clothing size. 

The staff members passed the information to Cozzi and she started shopping on Amazon and created a wishlist for each child.

About 146 families participated in the project by either buying the specific presents off Amazon or donating gift cards or cash. 

“I’m at the point now where I feel like when people see me walking in the street, they’re going to run away because I’m always asking for donations,” said Cozzi, who also asked for donations in October to raise money for the Making Strides walk to support the American Cancer Society. She was $40 shy of raising $18,000. “It’s just an incredible community.”

Dozens of Lake Club residents come together to wrap gifts for the Boys & Girls Club of Manatee County.
Courtesy image

Every day, Cozzi’s front porch was filled with dozens of Amazon packages. 

The second floor of her home became like the North Pole with the hallways and rooms filled with gifts. 

Cozzi said the Santa’s Sleigh project shows the generosity of the Lake Club community. 

“I’ve never lived in a community like this, and it means so much to me to have people understand that it’s not all about them and there are people in need,” she said. “The more you find out about what people need, it’s overwhelming. Somebody gets an idea and they think of a way to help.”

Cozzi set aside five hours for residents to be at the clubhouse to help wrap more than 350 gifts for children as part of The Lake Club Santa’s Sleigh project.

More than 35 women arrived at the clubhouse by noon Dec. 4 to wrap gifts. The outpouring of help overwhelmed Cozzi as the group was able to finish wrapping in an hour-and-a-half. She didn’t expect so many people to show up at the beginning. 

While Cozzi was trying to find the perfect gifts, she had some trouble figuring out some of the wishes or what would be best for the child. For example, she had to look up what a PS 5 is, which is a video game console known as PlayStation 5. When a child asked for chapter books, she went to a neighbor’s son for help, who told her what books were popular and age appropriate. 

When the Boys & Girls Club staff took the gifts Dec. 5, Cozzi said she couldn’t wait to hear from staff members about the responses from the impacted families.



Liz Ramos

Liz Ramos covers education and community for East County. Before moving to Florida, Liz was an education reporter for the Lynchburg News & Advance in Virginia for two years after graduating from the Missouri School of Journalism.

Latest News