Pearl City couple travels to Vegas to win toys for Hawaii's keiki

Tom Sugita
Tom Sugita

By Minna Sugimoto - bio | email

PEARL CITY (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's hard to believe, but Christmas is right around the corner. Children's charities are already planning their holiday toy collection drives.

Many of them will get a big boost from a couple in Pearl City. Despite rising travel costs, Tom and Marie Sugita fly to Las Vegas multiple times a year to win soft and cuddly toys for sick and needy kids.

Tom Sugita admits he's obsessed with stuffed animals.

"I'm very, very particular about the stuffed animals," he said. "It has to be quality. It has to be soft."

He and his wife travel to Las Vegas about three times a year. But unlike many Vegas lovers from Hawaii, they don't spend hours and hours in front of the slot machines or at the craps tables.

Instead, they spend their money at the Circus Circus arcade, playing amusement games like darts and bowling with the sole purpose of winning stuffed animals for Hawaii's keiki.

"If you're on the slot machine, yeah, all you gotta do is take 10 minutes and $100 goes just like that," Sugita said. "But for us, if we play $100 up there, we're sure going to win at least three- to five-hundred dollars worth of stuff."

After nearly 30 years of playing, the Sugitas have become quite proficient and have brought home about 3,000 toys, which they've donated to organizations like HUGS, Shriner's Hospital for Children, and the Ronald McDonald House.

"From the time I was young, I've always looked at the less fortunate," Sugita said. "I'm always with the less fortunate. I'd rather be with the underdog team than the team that's always going to win because you build character."

In recent years, the Sugitas, who are both 73 years old, have had the added challenge of airline baggage fees. But they say it's a small price to pay to make a child happy during the holidays.

"If you make a person happy, you feel pretty good for that day," Sugita said.

The executive director of HUGS, which works with children who have life-threatening illnesses, says the Sugitas' donations are invaluable. The group says because its clients' immune systems are compromised, it can only accept unused toys like the ones that the couple provides.

Copyright 2010 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.