PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A Pinellas County man is continuing the work he and his late fiancée started six years ago during the holiday season.
Heath Murphy is the Executive Director of The Island of Misfit Toys. He and his late fiancée, Joslyn, “adopted” a young woman around the holidays about six years ago who was escaping an abusive relationship. The young woman had three children, and the couple took care of them with Christmas gifts that year.
They continued to “adopt” at least one family a year before their acts of kindness were noticed by someone and started to take off.
“Somebody found out about it on Facebook, I don’t know whether it was the lady, the mom, that we were helping posted something up there or what happened, but when more people found out about it, people wanted to help,” Murphy said. “I was kind of surprised when people started sticking money, like I go home and there would be like $100 sitting under my mat.”
The Island of Misfit Toys was incorporated as a nonprofit on Sept. 25, 2019 and received tax-exemption status on Oct. 2 of that year. Its name, of course, comes from the holiday classic “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and Murphy said the name was just stuck in his head.
The charity now provides children on “angel trees” at local schools with the gifts they request, within reason.
Murphy said the first year The Island of Misfit Toys became an official organization, they were able to help two schools. Last year, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, they were able to help 194 kids across five schools.
They also give back in other ways for the holidays, if needed, as well.
“One of the schools that we contacted said that they had no problems with the angel tree but they had, I think it was like 40 families, they were trying to get Christmas dinners to,” Murphy said. “So we donated the main course, they said they had plenty of canned goods, so we, you know, had a bunch of turkeys and hams and all that kind of stuff delivered.”
This year, Murphy hopes to help at least 300 children in schools and youth programs in Pinellas County.
The push for donations begins early because gifts have to be bought early, as The Island of Misfit Toys delivers the gifts right to the schools before Christmas break.
Murphy reaches out to the main office of schools with a spreadsheet, as many of the kids on the “angel trees” have very specific gift wishes. That’s why the nonprofit accepts monetary donations.
“I generally try to fulfill those as much as I can, obviously we have kids asking for video games systems that cost $400 and we’re not doing that, but we do try to fill the request as much as possible,” Murphy said. “So buying, you know, buying like Toys for Tots, that model doesn’t really work for us.”
Murphy’s daughter, Kiersten Murphy, also helps alongside her father, helping to fundraise and running The Island of Misfit Toys social media accounts, as well as shopping and delivering the gifts.
Murphy says the ongoing experience is fun for him.
“I think the first year was just Joslyn and me and the second year, I think there were five of us at Walmart that early December buying, I don’t know, it was a ridiculous sum of toys,” he laughed. “I think there was 16 baskets and the poor little checkout girl sure didn’t like me, but it’s been a lot of fun and delivering the gifts has been a lot of fun.”
Joslyn passed away in December of 2020, but Murphy continues the efforts they started together because it was important to them both and he wants to keep it going and growing.
“I think she’d be proud,” he said with tears in his eyes.
The Island of Misfit Toys has a clickable “donate” button on its Facebook page, and monetary donations can also be sent to 5622 Central Ave. S, St. Petersburg, 33707.