By Donald WittkowskiWith less than three weeks to go before Christmas, Santa Claus is getting a huge helping hand from a local charity and a venerable Ocean City hotel.A table in the lobby of the Port-O-Call Hotel brimmed Tuesday night with hundreds of toys of virtually every type imaginable – Teddy bears, Barbie doll sets, Star Wars action figures, dinosaurs, miniature trucks, boxes of crayons, coloring books and much, much more.This Christmas largesse stems from an annual toy drive that pairs the Port-O-Call with the Ocean City Waves of Caring charity.A record crowd of more than 150 people attended the holiday party and charity event at the Port-O-Call Hotel.A Who’s Who of the Ocean City political, business and social scene turned out Tuesday night for a private holiday party and charity event that celebrated the partnership between Waves of Caring and the Port-O-Call.“It’s growing every year,” Jim Smith, Ocean City’s fire chief and chairman of Waves of Caring, said of the event, now in its ninth year. “I think it’s because of the quality of the people who are attending it. Plus, the Port-O-Call outdoes itself by putting out a great spread.”More than 150 people packed the party, a record number. While walking through the hotel lobby, they passed by the table that was crowded with all of the toys, as well as gift certificates and other donations, made to Waves of Caring to help needy local families.Mayor Jay Gillian and Councilman Antwan McClellan were among the dignitaries at the affair.Beth Pruzinsky, the Port-O-Call’s controller and one of the organizers of the toy drive, could only guess at the number of donated items collected by the hotel staff.“There are several hundred toys,” she said. “There are also some gift certificates, coats and books that have been donated. But the majority is toys.”Pruzinsky and Smith thanked Port-O-Call’s owners for their support of the toy drive. The ownership group includes brothers Michael and James Scully and Michael’s daughter, Jessica Scully, Pruzinsky said.The Port-O-Call, a landmark at 15th Street and the Boardwalk since 1966, is affectionately known as the “Pink Lady” for its distinctive color scheme.The hotel started its partnership with Waves of Caring 23 years ago. Pruzinsky said Port-O-Call is the largest single donator to the toy drive.“It’s the kind of company that encourages everybody on the staff of the hotel to help out the charity,” she said.Port-O-Call’s toy collection started modestly in 1993, consisting of a donation bin at a small employee holiday party. Now, the hotel’s donations cover more than half of the expenses that are required to run the Waves of Caring annual toy drive, Smith said.“We couldn’t be more grateful to have them as a major supporter – and we look forward to joining forces to help others less fortunate once again in 2016,” Smith said in a statement.Jim Smith, chairman of Waves of Caring, thanked the Port-O-Call for its support of the toy drive over the past 23 years.Nearly 400 toys and $2,700 in monetary donations were collected during the record-breaking 2015 event. Glenn Losch, the Port-O-Call’s general manager, noted that everyone is hopeful of setting a new record in 2016.“The true spirit of giving was alive and well, which is why our event is so important to the management and staff at the Port-O-Call Hotel,” Losch said in a statement. “We look forward to another wonderful event this year and for many years to come.”Waves of Caring is a city-sanctioned charity that collects and distributes toys and other gifts around the Christmas holiday for children of underprivileged Ocean City families. It has also launched a new program, called “Holiday Helpings,” to provide holiday meals for needy local families.Pianist Ingrid Forss provided the musical entertainment in the hotel lobby. Port-O-Call Controller Beth Pruzinsky, left, joins Waves of Caring board members Jim Smith, Patricia Smith, Debbie Buckley, Dana Linthicum and Frank Donato.
Former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo returned home Wednesday evening after spending nine months in U.S. prison for laundering bribe money from Taiwan.“I am so happy to be home in Guatemala with my daughter Gabriela, with [his ex-wife] Evelyn and my family,” said Portillo, 63, who earned the dubious distinction of having been the first former Latin American president handed over by his country to a U.S. court.As Portillo spoke with reporters at Guatemala’s La Aurora International Airport, a large crowd of followers waited outside, cheering the former leader.Portillo left no doubt that he plans to jump into the country’s election-year political scene, though not as a candidate. He said he wanted to seek a national agreement aimed at reforming the Guatemalan government.“The country can’t continue with the same political system we have, … with the same justice system we have,” Portillo said, adding that the country’s constitution and government “don’t work.”“If we all agree, in Guatemala, if we all accept, humbly, responsibly, bravely … that we’ve made mistakes, that we’re not perfect, the country could move forward,” he said.Portillo assured he would not be a candidate for any elected position, and that if his proposed national agreement wasn’t possible, he would not take part in active politics and would go back to being a university professor.Portillo had been extradited to the U.S. in May 2013 and a year later was convicted of laundering $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwan so that Guatemala would keep recognizing Taiwan and not Beijing.Central America is home to six of the 22 countries that recognize Taiwan’s independence from China.Costa Rica also recognized Taiwan until 2007. Since then, it has signed a free trade agreement with China, in 2011, and cooperation deals worth $2 billion in 2013, equivalent to four percent of its economy.Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Portillo had served six months in U.S. prison. Related posts:Guatemala’s Alfonso Portillo gets six years in prison in US Guatemala’s Pérez Molina clings to power despite unprecedented pressure to resign Guatemala’s former vice president charged in customs fraud ring, ordered held in prison Guatemalan legislative commission recommends lifting President Pérez Molina’s immunity Facebook Comments