Island Gym trainer Jon Simon prepared to teach his boxing-circuit class, yet he couldn't help but notice the gym's Toys for Tots bin was practically empty.
"I just thought of it. 'Next class, I'm going to make a deal with you guys. If you bring in a toy, I'll offer the class for free,'" he recalled telling a class years ago.
Nine years later, Simon's annual Boxx for Tots toy collection has become almost as famous as his intense workout, which he offers three times a week.
On a recent cold Tuesday night, the gym's Ventnor location was hot. Simon, who lives in Margate, had a full class of about 25 people ready to sweat - and to give.
Willie Wong, of Atlantic City, is a regular at Simon's Group Boxx class. She said she has donated a toy for the past six years.
"It's awesome," she said. "There are a lot of kids out there who need toys. I mean, it's Christmas. It's a special time. You're doing two good things. You're working out, losing weight, and you're giving back to the community. You can't beat that."
And as the loud, high-energy music blasted from the workout room, a mountain of toys, including Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels, sat at the gym's entrance. People have brought in everything from bicycles to cash donations, year after year, the head trainer said.
"Every year, it has grown," Simon said. "Last year, we collected about 3,000 toys. This year, we hope for 4,000."
Donations began the day after Thanksgiving and will likely end Dec. 21. Toys can be dropped off at any of the gym's four locations; Ventnor, Absecon, Northfield or Egg Harbor Township.
The head trainer expects the pile of toys to multiply as the free class dates approach. The days include 6 p.m. Dec. 20, and 11 a.m. Dec. 21. The class usually costs $15.
The toys are typically delivered to the state Division of Youth and Family Services and the Gilda's Club of South Jersey, but donations are not limited to the two groups. Simon recalled a year they gave to local families of laid-off casino employees.
"It's whatever arises. If they need toys, we'll give it to them," he said. "It's the season to give."
Emily Llorens, of Ventnor, planned to give her donation at the next class she attends. She said the workout is worth at try. It incorporates rotating stations of spin biking, kettle bells, boxing and more.
"It's fun," she said. "I look forward to it every week."
Just don't make a mistake, Simon said, or it's a round of push-ups for everybody.
Although it appears Simon likes nothing more than to make his workouts difficult each week, he likes giving back even more.
"We're going to kill it," he said of this year's drive. "If I could give a toy to every local family, I would."
To request toys, call Simon at 609-992-6211. To learn about Group Boxx, call 609-823-3400.
Contact Caitlin Honan:
If you go
Jon Simon's Group Boxx Class
6 p.m. Dec. 20 and 11 a.m. Dec. 21
Ventnor's Island Gym, 5010 Wellington Avenue
Free with a toy donation, or $15