For many served by Embrace Families, the holidays can be a heavy reminder of the instability, food insecurity and struggle that is a daily reality for many local children and families.
The Holiday Magic program allows community members the opportunity to serve others in several ways, including through a Holiday Magic Toy Drive.
Without the help of partners such as the Bellamys, Morgan Clement, community engagement director with Embrace Families, said the toy drive would not be possible.
“Last year, our Holiday Magic campaign distributed more than 6,000 gifts to more than 1,500 kids,” Clement said. “This year’s goal is 10,000 toys, which will be distributed to all of the kids we serve — about 2,300 on any given day this year. We believe the kids in our care should experience the joy of the season like every other child, and the support of partners, like the Bellamys, make that possible. We couldn’t do it without them.”
MAKING A LIST, CHECKING IT TWICE
The Bellamy family moved from Ohio to Orlando to escape the cold weather and have lived in the Winter Garden area since 2015.
With a passion for children and helping others, the family began to foster and explore adoption.
However, everything changed when the pandemic hit and Patricia Bellamy, a disabled veteran, had her right lung collapse twice.
Although she was encouraged to stay home to rest, recover and lower her risk of illness, she knew God had other plans for her.
Unable to take on the responsibility of fostering and adoption with her sickness, Patricia Bellamy’s mother suggested the family get in touch with Embrace Families after seeing the love the family had for helping people in need in the community and the unique way the family was able to connect with children.
The first year following the pandemic, the family collected more than 50 bicycles equipped with flashing helmets and stuffed animals strapped to the seats to donate to the organization.
Since then, every year on Black Friday, the Bellamy family begins the yearlong collection campaign, finding ways to get the best bang for their buck. And they admit, it’s a commitment that takes a full year to achieve.
“Fostering the children and even connecting with their siblings made our lives significantly fuller,” Patricia Bellamy said. “I’ve been collecting toys my whole life, and I felt like God was calling me to not stay still but to do something different.”
The family has now perfected the collection of toys down to a science.
Patricia Bellamy starts the collection with the sales of the bigger items on Black Friday.
Instead of buying all the toys at one time, she budgets specific amounts throughout the year.
She searches for the best sales, waiting outside local stores like Walmart and Target before they open, earning her superstar status recognition with many of the managers.
She takes as many of the toys as she can, but also makes sure she leaves some for others.
The age range for the toys varies from newborns to age 18.
Growing up in poverty, Patricia Bellamy knows all too well what it’s like to go without during the holiday season. She grew up relying on the generosity of others.
“My mom told me to not be in that position and to always do better,” she said. “I wanted to make sure my family and our son would never be in that position. I wanted to help other families. I felt that way even when I was in poverty. I’ve always been appreciative of the kindness of strangers. I think if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at in my life now.”
Franklin Bellamy said he also has had the same passion for helping others since he was a child.
As the oldest siblings and the children of oldest siblings, the two have always had a natural instinct to offer care and protection for others.
“We never had birthdays or holidays when we were in poverty; they were just days,” Patricia Bellamy said. “Now, I go way overboard for our son. When he unwraps a gift, if I can feel like another child is having that same moment of happiness, then I’m happy. That’s my Christmas.”
The couple’s son also has inherited the same passion.
“(My favorite part) is helping other people,” Tiberius Bellamy, 9, said.
In addition to Embrace Families, the family has donated time and necessities to organizations such as Matthew’s Hope, Students with a Goal, local churches and homeless students in the Orange County Public Schools system.
This year, with her lungs growing more stable, Patricia Bellamy will have the opportunity to become even more involved. She plans to travel to Embrace Families in Maitland to watch the children pick out the toys and help to wrap the ones selected.
Her hope is to continue to help change the world for the better.
“I want to create a sense of hope, even if it’s just for a second,” she said. “Everyone deserves that moment of joy.”
News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.