Harry Pecunia Jr. wants to top the 2,300 toys collected last year for kids less fortunate. Can you help?
Photo by Roberto Gonzalez
Harry Pecunia Jr.’s father would spend hours fixing up old, discarded bicycles before giving them away to underprivileged children in Puerto Rico on Three Kings' Day.
He did that for about 15 years before he became ill and died at age 52. Now Pecunia Jr., a semi-retired insurance agent from east Orlando, has continued his legacy by becoming the Second-Hand Santa—a business name his friends invented—collecting around 2,300 toys last year for area children who might not otherwise get Christmas presents.
As a young man, Pecunia and his wife would buy groceries for families they’d heard were struggling, collect donations if someone died without the means for a funeral and collect clothing and furniture if someone’s home caught fire.
Ten years ago, he went to a garage sale that was packed with used toys. He paid $40 for every box and had to make several trips to get it all home.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do with them all. I said, I don’t know, let’s give them out to kids,” he says.
A friend helped him clean and organize them and they gave them to a local school. He continued to scout for toys at garage sales, which evolved into soliciting toy donations through word of mouth and social media. Three years ago he began publicizing his efforts and he jumped from collecting around 400 toys annually to numbers in the thousands.
Pecunia collects toys from October to mid-December, when boxes of toys overflow from his garage into the house where they’re piled on tables, chairs and fill the back porch. He invites family and friends to what can turn into days of sorting, toy repair, sanitizing, battery installation and gift wrapping. They turn the work into a party with food, drinks and music.
“If you have chicken, beer and wine you’re going to get a lot of helpers,” he says. “My house becomes a little workshop.”
He admitted that he considered not doing the toy drive this year.
“The boxes are heavy. I’m 70 years old so I’m not as strong as I used to be. [My wife] said, ‘No Harry, do it, because a lot of these kids depend on you. We’ll carry the box together.”
He hopes his grandchildren—ages 4 to 21—will one day take a bigger role in Second-Hand Santa. His 10-year-old grandson has been helping since he was four and now he recruits his friends to help. His granddaughter has never missed helping with the dinner Pecunia hosts each year for the homeless just before Christmas in front of Orlando City Hall.
“What brings me the most joy is my grandkids asking me, ‘When are we going to do the toy thing, Grandpa?’” he says. “I always tell them, ‘Whenever you can do nice things for people, do it. You’ll get it all back’.”
Second-Hand Santa needs wrapping paper, Scotch Tape, ribbons, batteries and Christmas bags in good condition. Toys for ages 3-12 are usually in short supply and generally, more girl toys are donated than toys for boys. He also collects blankets and warm clothing for adults and children. Reach Harry Pecunia at 321-299-2390, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook under his name.