By Pamela Cody 

Special to the PRESS

Local residents line up around Louie’s Backyard to donate toys during the 20th annual Toys for Tots event. Photo by Pamela Cody.

     Holiday spirits were on full display Tuesday afternoon, as Laguna Madre residents packed Louie’s Backyard on South Padre Island in support of Toys for Tots.

     The Toys for Tots program collects donated toys and money to support children and families in need during the holidays. For the 20th year, Louie’s Backyard hosted their annual Toys for Tots event, where patrons donate a gift valued at $10 or more or a cash donation and in return enjoy a delicious buffet on their outdoor patio. Fresh fish, two kinds of shrimp, ribs and chicken tenders were among the items offered to appreciative diners. The line to get in snaked around the corner and down Laguna Boulevard, as participants waited to hand their toys off to the Marines who were there volunteering to collect the donated gifts and haul them to the waiting trucks.

     The turnout this year was outstanding, as SPI council member Ken Medders noted as he worked volunteering to put ID bracelets on paying customers.

     “It’s the reason for the season,” said Medders, adding “By 4:40 there were already over a thousand people admitted.” According to Toys for Tots officials, this year looked to be a record breaking crowd.

     The weather was perfect for the event, with a little cloud cover and no humidity. Diners enjoyed the view of the Laguna Madre bay and a stunning sunset as they ate and enjoyed music provided by a local entertainer Leslie Blasing.

U.S. Marines accepting donated toys during the 20th annual Toys for Tots event. Photo by Pamela Cody.

     Marine Corporal Joseph Martinez was working his fourth Toys for Tots, and said “We do what we can to help the community.” Martinez, entering his fifth year of service, had a very personal reason for volunteering for this particular event.

     “The reason I joined the Marine Corps was actually for Toys for Tots,” Martinez explained. “I grew up as a poor kid, so knowing that these toys will be collected and go to a child that needs them, it’s really heartwarming.”

     Louie’s general manager and SPI council member, Joe Ricco, has family in the military, so this cause is near and dear to his heart. Looking around at the huge crowd supporting Toys for Tots, Ricco commented on his 20th Toys for Tots. “It’s fantastic, it’s what the holidays are about. We’re blessed to be part of it, and proud to partner with the US Marines on this.”   

     In 2018, over 30,000 toys were distributed from Toys for Tots in the Rio Grande Valley. Those children may not have had a gift for Christmas otherwise. For further information on how to make a cash donation or where to drop off gifts, call 956-425-9643 or visit their website at 

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