Thieves steal Christmas toys meant for needy kids

"She works so hard," said Cheryl Bellow, a program director with Specialized Treatment, Education and Prevention Services (STEP) Inc. "Basically, when she hears of a need, she just goes out and fills it. I don't know how she does it. But she does."

Bowman attributes her success to a wide network of supporters — everyone from the local businesses that make donations to the college kids who deliver presents on Christmas Eve.

Bowman is still determined to make those deliveries.

She's not sure how. The burglary report from the Sheriff's Office cited no witnesses. It offered no leads.

And the gifts are all gone — along with the agency's sleigh, the 12-foot white trailer that Bowman described as crucial to her mission.

But Bowman and her supporters are already trying. During my visit, her phone buzzed with an offer of another crib.

Bowman wiped a tear from the corner of her eye, thinking of the grandmother who, just this week, had taken custody of five children rescued from neglect. The grandmother had the will to turn her life upside down for these kids. She did not have the resources.

Her story is one of thousands in Central Florida.

And so Bowman will begin her Christmas crusade anew.

"This is not going to bring us down," she said. "If anything, it's going to bring us closer together — and make us even more determined."

If you'd like more information on One Heart for Women and Children, visit oneheartforwomenandchildren.org or call 321-299-4594. Monetary donations to "One Heart for Women and Children" can also be made at any local Wells Fargo branch.

smaxwell@tribune.com or 407-420-6141

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