Toy drive

The 15th annual Muscle Toy Drive will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, on the Venice Boardwalk. (Photo credit: Abe Lojero)

Annual Muscle Beach Toy Drive returns, thanks to Joe Wheatley and first responders

The 15th annual Muscle Beach Toy Drive will take place from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4. Organized by Joe Wheatley Productions, the toy drive spreads joy to local underserved children during the holiday season. With special guest appearances, the family event kicks off the holiday season with a little magic.

The first Muscle Beach Toy Drive was in 2007. Wheatley was walking on a treadmill when the idea for the event struck him. 

He came home and told his wife, Christine, that he wanted to do a toy drive. She was a bit hesitant and asked how he planned to get the toys to the kids.

 “I don’t know all of the details yet, but I will figure them out,” Wheatley told her.

He not only figured it out, but he found success. 

To find out who needed the toys, he reached out to his friend and longtime Venice resident, Jill Prestup. She put him in contact with the Venice Bible Tabernacle Church, who agreed to accept and distribute the toys.  

Academy Award-winning actress and former Venice resident, Anjelica Huston, was the first person to donate toys to the inaugural event, which ultimately raised $250 and collected 300 toys.  

In 2009, Wheatley decided to partner with the Los Angeles Police Department Pacific Division Winter Wonderland Toy Drive Giveaway. The Pacific Division Police Substation is located adjacent to the Venice Beach Recreation Center, which is the location for the Muscle Beach toy dropoff.

“It was a no-brainer to partner with the LAPD Pacific Division distribution drive,” Wheatley said.

  Last year, the Muscle Beach Toy Drive raised approximately $8,000 and collected several thousand toys. The money raised from the drive goes to the Pacific Area Boosters, a nonprofit organization that supports the LAPD Pacific Division Cadets Program. Diane Barretti is the current president of the Pacific Area Boosters. 

Now that the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, this year is expected to be the best, Wheatley said. Starting at 10 a.m., the Pacific Division LAPD Color Guard Cadets will kick off the festivities to the national anthem.  

Immediately following will be the Lat Pull Down competition. Contestants must pull down a close grip bar to their sternum for a maximum number of reps. Women pull 50% of their body weight, while men pull 60%. There is no time limit, but if there is more than a 3-second interval, it is their last pull. The top three male and female winners will receive gift boxes provided by Wheatley’s generous sponsors. To enter the contest they must bring in a new unwrapped toy of around $20 in value.  

At 12:30 p.m. the Venice Vintage Motorcycle Club will arrive with toys strapped to the back of their motorcycles. 

Then Santa and his Elvettes are scheduled to come on their sleigh, provided by LAPD Pacific Division, from the North Pole to the Venice Muscle Beach Toy Drive at 1 p.m. 

Santa will ride down the Boardwalk, greet fans, and offer photo opportunities. 

Santa and the Elvettes will join Wheatley and hand out the special certificates of appreciation to the sponsors. 

The certificates are signed by Councilmember Mike Bonin’s office and awarded to those helping with the drive. Event T-shirts will also be distributed to attendees. 

After the events, around 15 to 20 LAPD cruisers will pick up the toys and bring them to the Pacific Division Station in Culver City.

 Their distribution drive this year will take place at the Venice and Westchester Boys and Girls Club, Mar Vista YMCA, Mar Vista Family Center, Oakwood Recreation Center, and HUD Housing during the second week of December. 

For Wheatley, doing a toy drive for all of these years is very meaningful to him. 

“It has a special place in my heart because it is giving back,” he said. 

“Over the years, it has made thousands of kids happy. When the toys go to a child, it makes an impact on their lives.” 

Muscle Toy Drive

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4

WHERE: Venice Boardwalk

COST: Free admission; donated toys should be new, unwrapped and around $20 in value. The toys will be collected at the Venice Beach Recreation Center, located at 1800 Ocean Front Walk.