For Serenity Grace-Morrow, the gift was a dress-up princess costume she was excited to receive. “I love my toy, Thank you! I’m so happy!”, she exclaimed as she sat among scores of children who were in receipt of their own toy brought by the San Bernardino coalition first formed in 2015.
Three years ago, a plan by San Bernardino Teachers Association (SBTA) leadership to assist a group of children who have been in distressed situations has grown to a yearly effort to provide gifts for some of San Bernardino’s families of greater need. This effort to make the holiday season a better one began when a local community organization, Valley Star Community Services, were in need of toys for about 120 children for whom they provide service. Valley Star supports families and parents suffering from mental illness. The effort and passionate response in the first year brought over 300 toys, and enough support to share meals for every child. Left-over toys were given to local Foster Care agencies that year.
Since that first effort, coalition partner SBTA President Ashley Bettas-Alcala has seen city businesses and organizations continue to join the toy drive effort; “We are excited to see more partners join with the San Gorgonio Service Center Council and local businesses in this amazing and growing program to aid our neighbors in need.”
Now in its third year, support continues to grow for the Toy Drive collaboration. The many remaining items this year enabled the coalition to share the bounty with Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital.
The Toy Drive has no problem soliciting help; SBTA members readily volunteer for the project. They find the volunteerism rewarding in part because they discovered this community engagement opportunity by simply listening to a need, networking, and following through to help their neighbors.
Local organizations involved in the Toy Drive include San Bernardino Teachers Association, Fontana Teachers Association, Colton Educators, and our San Gorgonio CTA Retirees. Community support has been outstanding.
Fellow coalition partner, U.S. Air Force liaison Guillermo Gamboa, 701 COS/ Communications Flight Superintendent, represented USAF and delivered two vehicles filled with toys for this year’s effort.
A local restaurant, Gus Jr. #14, also hosted a toy drive with the help of Manager Henry Garcia and collected over 70 toys in one evening. Local car clubs also made donations.
One local radio station’s disc jockey’s, D.J. Paul and Cece Rasso, promoted the Drive on their KAOTIC RADIO station and donated many hours of airtime.
Santa Claus also made an appearance, played with whimsey by self-titled artist Frijolito Claus, who gets all the children up and dancing at the event.
Local physician Robert Yang, M.D., captures the spirit of this community engagement with a simple act. He comes by each year and delivers a box of toys and clothing. Organizers are especially touched by this effort; they don’t have to give him a flyer, he automatically delivers.