POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — In a warehouse in Auburndale, volunteers pick out toys to give to children this Christmas.

Every day, they talk about a man who, for many of them, was the reason they are there.

“He recruited me. David was the heart and soul of Toys for Tots. We all loved him. We’d do anything for him. He inspired us all,” said Maria Radford, the volunteer coordinator.

David “Wally” Waller, a retired law enforcement officer and Polk County Toys for Tots coordinator since 2017, passed away on Nov. 19 after a brief battle with brain cancer. He was 67 years old.

“I feel he’s still with us. I really do,” said Radford.

“You’re talking about a guy who loved everybody, upbeat. In 20+ years of friendship, I never saw him upset or angry. He was always out there trying to make a difference somewhere and one of the most genuine people you’d ever want to be around,” said Angela Davis, the new coordinator for the program.

In 2021, Waller was nationally recognized as Toys for Tots coordinator of the year. Polk County was named the nation’s top program.

“As far as I’m concerned, Wally is Mr. Toys for Tots,” said Davis.

Davis said Waller used to tell Davis one day she would take over for him.

She did not expect it to happen so quickly.

“I will be working very hard to make sure we keep his legacy going,” she said. “We usually start Toys for Tots around the second week of October. So when we found out he was ill, it was right at the beginning of our season so this has been a bit of a struggle this year without our leader.”

Davis said the organization is collecting gifts to distribute to 15,000 children this year.

“You take the loss of Wally and then donations are down this year. We are having an extremely, extremely difficult time this year,” she said.

There are 150 locations across Polk County to drop off toy donations.

Volunteers say the organization is in need of football and soccer balls as well as toys for 10-12-year-old boys and girls.

In lieu of flowers, Waller’s family is asking people who attend his memorial service to bring a toy for Toys for Tots.

His service will be held on Dec. 16 at 10 a.m., at Lakeland First United Methodist Church followed by a Celebration of Life at the Lakeland Fraternal Order of Police.