Gulfport Tavern Fills Santa's Sleigh With Toys For The Regional Center

Santa walked into a South Mississippi Regional Center classroom, and faces lit up. He handed each person a stuffed toy. Some hugged him. Others said thanks.

"It really is the best time of year," said Tonya Turbville, principal of the regional center. "That's why I walk around to every class when he comes in. It's just amazing."

Every person living at the Long Beach complex has a form of mental retardation. Life isn't easy for them. That's why Santa's visit meant so much to the staff members who work with these individuals.

"Like with Marcus," the principal said. "He sees nothing. He doesn't see. But when Santa Claus came in, he's up on Santa Claus, touching his face, touching his beard, touching his bells. And he's really experiencing Santa Claus. And that's been the best thing."

Buddy Donahue and Bill Merica watched Santa spread his holiday cheer to each of the regional center's residents. "I just love them to death," said Donahue. "I would do anything in the world for them. I wish I could do more."

Donahue, Merica and their friends at Gilligan's Tavern decided to do something special for Christmas. So they started collecting stuffed animals. And they got permission to deliver them around the South Mississippi Regional Center.

"I'm like Buddy. I love kids," Merica said. "And when Buddy told me what he was doing about eight months ago, I said, 'Man I'm with you'. And I said, 'Let's do it'."

The heart warming smiles and hugs made this a Christmas the regional center, and the guys from Gilligan's won't forget.

"This time next year we'll be back," Merica said. "If the good Lord's willing."