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AVF Delivers Smiles, Toys For Foster Kids
AVF President John Hinkel has been passionate about Central Valley Foster Care, Inc. in Riverbank for many years and Director of Development Michelle Garcia is very grateful. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS

This season of giving has been a little different than in years past but the giving continues with organizations like American Veterans First (AVF). This past week they delivered a large assortment of toys for the children of Central Valley Foster Care, Inc. in downtown Riverbank.

Director of Development Michelle Garcia, Social Worker Amy Edwards, Dennis Machado, and Family Coordinator Socorro Perez with Central Valley Foster Care, Inc. on Santa Fe Street were all smiles as the toys were being delivered.

“We are extremely grateful to the effort and the generosity of all the people at American Veterans First,” remarked Garcia. “With all the work that American Veterans First does for our community, their support on behalf of our children was unexpected and deeply appreciated. Although all donations are valued by our agency and our children, this year’s donation has been much appreciated due to the added difficulties of the health crisis.”

AVF started a Christmas Toy Drive in mid-November, collecting toys for children in a wide age range. The Board for the non-profit consists of CEO Duke Cooper, President John Hinkel, Secretary Paige McLaughlin, Treasurer Lynell Soloman and Boardmember Jonathon Benjamin.

“It (AVF Board) is probably the best we have had,” noted Hinkel. “We have a pretty good team and it is working out really well.”

For the past five years Hinkel has been donating toys each year for the Foster Care group. He was introduced to them by his Vice President George that lived in Riverbank at the time with Veterans in Action motorcycle club.

“We like helping a little place like that that doesn’t get much outside help,” said Hinkel. “It was perfect for us. When I became a board member with AVF I just kept it going. I brought my passion for this place with Duke and he picked it up and we started promoting it since then. We also help them with anything else they need and make it happen.”

There were several people on hand last week during the delivery of the toys and Cooper introduced everyone and popped a bottle of apple cider in celebration of the abundance of toys donated that were delivered as well as the new partnership. The good vibes were in the air in downtown Riverbank.

“Our children will receive their gifts before Christmas depending on the families’ schedule to meet with their Agency Social Worker,” stated Garcia. “Each Agency Social Worker will bring the presents to their families and spend time with the children.”

On Tuesday a board member from AVF dropped off some coats and blankets as the Foster Care expressed a need and their passion to fulfill it.

“We felt really good and just to see the smiles on their faces and the way we are received,” expressed Hinkel. “They are really great and nice people there. It really seemed like a lot of joy and they really appreciate the help. This little hole in the wall right there in Riverbank, I love helping a little place like that.”

Hinkel has been a member of AVF for the past couple years and has assisted the non-profit in distributing coats, blankets, essential items, and meals to those in need.

The volunteers made several trips unloading several toys including board games, stuffed animals, action figures, Mr. Potato Head, trucks and cars. Although many people have struggled through the pandemic this year, AVF saw a very generous amount of toys donated.

“We had some really nice gifts,” added Hinkel. “I was really glad that people still find it in their hearts to give. It is awesome to see that.”

Next year AVF will refine the toy donations to something more specific to the needs of the Foster Care facility and age of the kids.

“The biggest need we have is to have more resource parents who are willing to open their homes to the children in our community,” explained Garcia. “These children have experienced great trauma in their lives. With loving, caring, and supportive home environments, these children will be able to overcome any difficulties in their lives and grow to be an essential part of their community.”

Central Valley Foster Care, Inc. has been in Riverbank since 2001 and according to Garcia has served over 2,000 foster children in Stanislaus County and neighboring counties. 

A volunteer with AVF also donated a few soldiers’ Bibles along with the assortment of toys for the children. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS