Sunday, April 2, 2023

Racking up bikes and toys for ninth annual Toys for Tots fundraiser

Jimmy Gilleece and his pup, Kruiser, have taken in 113 bikes since Nov. 18 for the annual L Shape Lot Toys for Tots fundraiser. (Port City Daily photo/Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON—On Monday, Nov. 30, Jimmy’s at Wrightsville Beach posted on the bar’s social media they had collected 95 bikes since participation began on Nov. 18 for L Shape Lot’s ninth annual Toys for Tots fundraiser. By late afternoon, Dec. 2, that number had ticked up on their official neon bike tracker to 113. 

“He always sets his expectations high,” Eric Miller said. Miller is the lead singer of L Shape Lot. “Last year, Jimmy collected 700 bikes.”

“792,” bar owner Jimmy Gilleece specified. “Hopefully, this year we will get at least 793.”

In 2018, Gilleece collected so many bikes, he said the Salvation Army of the Cape Fear  — which works with the US Marine Corps for Toys for Tots — was able to provide a bike to every New Hanover County child who wanted one. 

And they still had bikes left over. 

So, he said, the nonprofit donated bikes to kids in outlying counties it works with, like Pender and Brunswick (the local chapter also serves Bladen and Columbus).

Gilleece wanted to get involved with L Shape Lot’s annual toy drive after he heard Miller on the Penguin talking about the event four years ago. Miller is a part-time DJ on the Triple A radio station, 98.3, and The Dude 93.7 [full disclosure: the stations are owned by Local Daily Media, Port City Daily’s parent company].

“I called him and said, ‘Hey, what can I do to help?’” Gilleece recalled. “Eric said I could put a box out at the bar for toys. So that’s what I did. A week went by and there were two toys in the box; one of them was from my mom. So there was really just one toy — she did it for me.”

Gilleece decided to amp up community support. He made a post on social media saying he would match every bike that got donated. Before he hit “send,” he amended it to say he’d match the first 10 bikes donated. 

“I didn’t ever think I’d even get 10,” he added. 

Yet, that first year in 2017, he collected 224 — and in 2018, 519. 

For a month every holiday season, his bar overflows with handlebars, wheels and spokes in all sizes and colors. Every few days, when it gets too crowded, Gilleece stows away the bikes in a warehouse in the Grand View retail and condo development right over the Wrighstville Beach Bridge. The space is donated to him annually.

“It just has grown from word-of-mouth, social media and community support, really,” Gilleece reasoned.  

He posts pictures on Jimmy’s Instagram page of every person who donates a bike or makes a monetary gift to Toys for Tots, the latter of which he accepts via Pay Pal on his business’ website.

“Today we got $1,000 in donations,” Gilleece said, “from people I don’t even know and who have never been to Jimmy’s.”

In 2019 Jimmy’s at Wrightsville Beach collected 792 bikes for the Salvation Army of the Cape Fear. (Port City Daily photo/Shea Carver)

Miller also will get monetary donations in addition to toys each year. A $500 check arrived on his desk Monday, made out to Toys for Tots. Just as well, every year for a decade, an anonymous donor has given $1,000 in Walmart gift cards and asks the band to stock up on toys for the annual drive.

“We’re like a bunch of 12-year-olds shopping the aisles,” Miller said. “I’m just a kid at heart.”

Miller began the toy drive in 2011 at Wild Wing Cafe, where L Shape Lot would play their holiday show. The first year they collected a few bikes and one bag of toys. 

In year three, they moved the concert to Brooklyn Arts Center (BAC), mainly as a celebration for their drummer, John Kovalski, who was retiring. 

Related: L Shape Lot drummer, founding member to play final show Friday

“I loved him so much and he did so much for me, and I wanted to give him a blowout party,” Miller said. “It was a glowing goodbye — a great night.”

Miller said he was surprised and humbled by the 500 or so people who turned up in 2013; more so, he continues to be grateful for the crowds who continue to support it every year since. The toy drive has grown to rack up more than 1,000 toys annually, in addition to 700-plus bikes, according to Miller. 

The band’s tradition always included showing up the day after their concert and toy drive to clean up the BAC and gather donations to drop off to the Salvation Army. 

2020 is a different year, though, because of the pandemic. Crowds can’t gather; the band can’t play. 

Still, it isn’t stopping Miller from carrying forth the tradition. If anything, it’s been an extraordinary year with unprecedented challenges. Many face significant job loss and financial hurdles from Covid-19. Thus greater demand to host a toy drive. 

Miller decided to use his platform at the mic to churn out support for the cause this year, even if it meant not having an official event. The Penguin and The Dude stepped in to act as a host site for Toys for Tots.

Through Dec. 18, folks can drop off donations or mail them to 1410 Commonwealth Dr., Wilmington, NC 28403. They can also drop off bikes to Jimmy’s at Wrighstville Beach, 5 N Lumina Ave.

“It really started because I wanted to return the kindness,” Miller said. “And this year people have rallied around local musicians and artists and me more than ever. I’m going to try to be a reflection of all the goodness I get. I want to put that back out into the world.”  

Have a holiday event or fundraiser you want us to know about? Email Shea Carver at

Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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