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Walt Disney World Resort launched its annual Toys for Tots collection drive today with a little help from Duffy the Disney Bear and his pals Mickey and Minnie, creating the “Cuddliest Christmas Tree,” a 20-foot-high, 10-foot-wide Christmas tree made of 1,200 stuffed Duffy bears.

Topping the “Cuddliest Christmas Tree” with a giant red bow at today’s ceremony were members of the U.S. Marine Corps, Walt Disney World Ambassador Clay Shoemaker and Walt Disney World VoluntEARS.

Each year, Walt Disney World VoluntEARS donate thousands of hours of service and tens of thousands of toys to Toys for Tots – all with the goal of making the holidays brighter for deserving children throughout Central Florida. For the next few weeks, Walt Disney World cast members will play the role of Santa’s helpers by collecting new toys for the annual toy drive, which will be added to today’s donation of 1,200 stuffed Duffy bears from the “Cuddliest Christmas Tree.”

“As the story goes, Minnie created Duffy as a pal for Mickey to bring him comfort and joy, and we hope that Duffy brings those same gifts to children throughout Central Florida during the holidays,” said Walt Disney World Ambassador Clay Shoemaker. Duffy the Disney Bear was recently introduced at both Epcot at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disney California Adventure in California after becoming a phenomenon at Tokyo Disneyland. The plush has become an instant favorite with guests.

Disney cast members have big hearts and time and again show their generous spirit. As we head into the holiday season, we are seeing a record level of people in need and these donations will make a big difference in the lives of thousands of kids. First Sgt. Michael Diaz, who heads up the 2010 Central Florida Toys for Tots campaign

During the resort’s annual collection drive for Toys for Tots, Disney cast members collect items appropriate for infants and teenagers alike, ranging from learning toys and board games to arts and crafts and sports equipment. Donations from cast members will continue to be accepted through Dec. 10, with a final tally on toys expected thereafter.

This year, Central Florida Toys for Tots expects to assist thousands of families from Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties in celebrating the holiday season with gifts for their children. The annual toy drive is meant to send a message of hope to youngsters by ensuring they have at least one new gift to open during the holidays. Nationwide, Toys for Tots has drop-off sites set up to accept toy donations. For locations, visit http://toysfortots.org.

The Walt Disney Company’s involvement with Toys for Tots began more than 60 years ago when Walt Disney and his animators designed the original Toys for Tots logo that is still used today. In 2009, Disney VoluntEARS collected more than 23,000 toys for Central Florida Toys for Tots and gave more than 3,000 hours toward helping the U.S. Marines register families in need, sort and stock toys and assist with toy distribution.

The annual toy drive is one of many charitable activities underway at Walt Disney World Resort during the “Season of Sharing” that focuses on improving the lives of local children and their families during the holidays and beyond.