By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Some customers who shopped at Atmore’s Walmart on Saturday, November 10, were somewhat taken aback by the cadre of costumed characters who stood alongside a group of Atmore firefighters outside the store’s doors. For others, it was just one of the first signs that Christmas is around the corner.
For the third straight year, a group called CAUSEPLAY Gulf Coast, whose members donned attire of comic book, cartoon and video game heroes — as well as a movie princess —were on hand to help local firefighters with their annual toy drive, during which the group collected dolls, action figures, toy trucks and other playthings for distribution to children of local families in need.
“This is our third year coming to Atmore,” said Martha Howard, decked out in the costume of Rogue, an X-Men associate. “We have a group that this is all we do, charity events and other appearances to help communities. It gives us a good feeling inside, and we get to hang out with cool people. These guys (firemen) have always been great to us; they’re fantastic, and this is a great thing they do.”
AFD Capt. Zack Stewart said the feeling is mutual.
“They really help us out a lot,” he said. “People see them and want to know what’s going on, so we tell them about the toy drive and a lot of them go in and come out with toys. They raise money for several organizations in the Gulf Coast area, like Wounded Warriors Project and other charities like that.”
Stewart explained that this year’s toy donations will be split between local children and those along the Florida panhandle whose families were affected by Hurricane Michael. He added that the local store’s management has provided a means by which the toy drive can continue after the firefighters and their helpers are gone.
“Walmart is going to set one of their pumpkin boxes up in the store and collect toys for maybe the next couple of weeks,” he said. “Probably half of the toys we get will go to local kids and half will go to Florida. We’re affiliating with a church and they’ll be reaching out to the affected areas around the Port St. Joe-Mexico Beach area.”
Howard — who was joined by Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Captain America, Superman, Halo Spartan and Elsa from the Disney movie “Frozen” — portrayed Black Widow. She said there is a simple explanation for her adopting a different persona this year.
“That’s easy,” she laughed as chilly winds swept across the store parking lot. “The Rogue costume has a jacket with it; the Black Widow one doesn’t.”