Forgive the crappy photos, but of course I only had my iPhone with me:
Over 5900 kids were pre-registered for the toy giveaway event. I got there mid-morning to help with some wrapping first, then I was placed at a table as a “giver” with a matching “runner” to grab the toys which were sorted according to gender and age. Apparently the families started lining up outside the venue at 9am! Many families did come in carrying folded up lawn chairs & soft sided coolers! We started handing out toys at 1pm & I swear that snaking line you see up there looked like that for the next 3 hours solid. But it was well run in terms of keeping people moving & in order. There was a military unit & a couple of scout troops running crowd control pretty effectively. I only saw one tantruming toddler which is pretty darn good considering how long they were most likely waiting outside before they got into the main hall. There was also entertainment to keep them distracted. And Santa of course!
Yes, naturally, in a crowd of that many needy families, there were some crabby ones. The gentleman sitting next to me said this was his 5th straight year of volunteering, that the prior year they had only 2200 families yet ran out of toys! He also said kids would open the gift on the spot and then negotiate for trades. With so many people this year we really could not even play that game & I was actually asked to trade about 5 times which was not too bad. And two of them were legitimate as the toys must have been mis-labeled – clearly a 1 year old wouldn’t like chapter books!! Anyway, despite my cynical neighbor’s warnings, it really was largely a crowd of grateful families and kids. The night before over 3000 pretty darn nice plush Shrek stuffed toys were dropped off & we were able to toss those to the kids as ‘extras’ (it was one gift per child) and they were thrilled! Their smiles (many with missing front teeth!) & gratitude made the day.
No worries about running of toys either! Since I was just sitting in front of one section of gifts, I didn’t realize just how many we had. All those families later and there were still a LOT left over. The San Diego Padres had sent over not just a ton of their leftover kids giveaways from the prior season, but also employees to wrap in the morning and then the Pad Squad crew to help out as runners in the afternoon. I stayed for about an hour after the giveaway was done to load the excess toys for transportation to local churches & shelters.
While the need was more than double last year which was to be expected these days, it was truly fabulous to see that the generosity of others more than matched that increased need.
This event is going to become a regular part of the holiday season for me. I’ve never said Merry Christmas that much and it felt GOOD