Developers, builders and realtors are giving back this holiday season. It’s something they say is needed this year more than ever. But they know it will be a challenging effort. They had to find new and creative ways to help people, due to social distancing.

Aubuchon Homes has been doing Helping Hands for the Holidays for 22 years. The fundraiser supports three charities: Ronald McDonald House, Make a Wish Foundation and Builders Care.

“This is the first year in 22 years that we will be virtual,” said Gary Aubuchon, President of the Aubuchon Team of Companies. “People can go to aubuchonhomes.comcom and there is a donate button.”

Aubuchon knows that this virtual event will make it more difficult to collect money. In past years he held a party at his office that was open to the public and included food, and drinks from area restaurants. There would be photos with Santa and a tree lighting ceremony.

“We usually get about 300 people that come to the event that make donations,” Aubuchon described. “Last year we raised $37,500 which we divided up among the three charities. Each year we try to raise more than the prior year. We have been successful in doing that the past 10 years.”

This year Aubuchon is simply reaching out to vendors and others he does business with, hoping they will contribute to the virtual fundraiser.

“It is going to make it much harder,” Aubuchon admits. “Our appeal to past donors is ‘while we can’t get together this year we can be together in spirit.’ The reason for the season is to give back. We have appealed to all the folks who have donated in years past. Just because we can’t get together to give doesn’t mean we can’t give.”

Aubuchon doesn’t just hold the fundraiser, he greatly contributes to it.

“This time we challenged our sales agents to raise money and the three highest fundraisers among our team, we will match their totals,” he said.

John R. Wood Properties and its 650 associates have a history of delivering toys and food to children and seniors in need. This year they had to change their plans.

“This year it is just a gift card donation,” said James Schnars vice president of marketing.

Each child will receive a Walmart gift card for $35 and their family will receive a $25 gift card to Publix or Walmart toward a holiday meal. Each senior citizen will receive a Walmart gift card for $35 and a $20 Publix or Walmart gift card toward a holiday meal. Schnars said due to the pandemic they didn’t want people handling items and thought gift cards would be safer.

“We are a very philanthropic company,” Schnars explained. “One of our goals of our company is to do that every year. The company has a legacy of being philanthropic. It is part of the company culture.”

The Collier County Building Industry Association (CBIA) is also giving back. They’ve held a toy drive for the 23 years, but this year, they have reinvented this effort and are hosting a ‘Backpack Full of Joy’ drive. They collected monetary donations from members and purchased backpacks that they filled with goodies to give to students at Shadowlawn Elementary in East Naples and Pinecrest Elementary in Immokalee.

“Normally we gather toys for the holidays,” said Amelia Vasquez, executive director. “This year we had to do some reimagining. We can’t go to the schools. We started fundraising from the membership and our partners. For every $25 we are providing a backpack with a blanket, a book, a stuffed animal, a toy and some other supplies for the children.”

Vasquez believes they can get backpacks for all 1,100 children at the two elementary schools.

“This has been such a difficult year for so many families throughout Southwest Florida,” Vasquez said. “Now more than ever, we want to spread holiday joy. It may look like a simple backpack, but it’s filled with love from CBIA members.”

Beattie Development is doing its yearly Toys for Tots drive. Their corporate office, design center and model are drop off places.

“ All of our employees bring in toys too,” said Jill Jones, director of philanthropy for Beattie Development. “We also support a local nonprofit: Family Initiative in Cape Coral.”

They supported Family Initiative by matching $5,000 in donations during Giving Tuesday. The Beattie Family of Companies also matched $2,000 in donations to Platinum Fitness in their effort to raise money to provide gifts to children at local schools. The company also participates in the Shop with a Cop program. This year they donated $1,000 and Bergau Plumbing donated another $1,000 for the program that helps officers take children Christmas shopping.

Beattie Development continued its giving back by participating in a holiday food drive.

“We are going to do an employee food drive where the employees bring in food,” Jones said.

The food collected will be donated to the Cape Coral Family Center.

London Bay Homes has two initiatives they are coordinating this holiday season.

Their LBH Cares program is partnering with the Guadalupe Center on a Gift Collection. They are gathering toys from employees to help parents in Immokalee bring the magic of Christmas to their children. The gifts London Bay donates are unwrapped, so the Immokalee parents can wrap them and give them to their children. Each year the LBH Cares program helps with a Toy Drive for the Cancer Alliance of Naples.

“We have been very involved with the Guadalupe Center for years,” said Win Peniston, London Bay Homes, director of marketing. “A lot of events are a big deal in real estate and in fundraising and Guadalupe. It is different this year because you have a virtual gala. The biggest fundraiser is the gala that usually takes place at the Ritz Tiberon. This year London Bay Development Group and Moorings Park Grand Lake are the ringmaster/major sponsor of the event.”

Peniston said each year the LBH Cares program helps with a Toy Drive for the Cancer Alliance of Naples by collecting toys for them.

“We are also involved with Laces of Love,” Peniston continued. “We are collecting new shoes and socks for all ages.

Peniston said London Bay Homes is happy to be able to give back to the community during this challenging year.

“A lot of people want to build a new home in Florida and people are flocking away from urban centers to a tax friendly state,” Peniston began. “In spite of a real crazy upside down year, we have been quite successful in move in ready builds and new constructions. But there are children who have parents who are servers in hotels and servers in restaurants that have been absolutely devastated, and we want to give back to the community. We are meeting all targets. We were selling all summer. We want to re-gift some of our own home grown success to those who have been less fortunate. It is more important than ever.”