Tis’ the season of giving and that is exactly what the annual “Give Back” toy drive celebration is all about on Sunday, Dec. 11 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. in the Riverbank downtown area. The event will be hosted at Hometown, 3340 Santa Fe, by owner Bruce Gong in collaboration with Israel Flores of the A-Team Presents, an event production company, along with several local sponsors.
Gong and Flores are both Riverbank natives and had a unified idea to do something special for the Riverbank community during the holiday season. This led to the creation of the Give Back event that started in 2016 and was originally held in the Crossroads Shopping Center.
This will be the sixth annual event since they did not host the toy drive in 2020. All the toys collected will be donated to Central Valley Foster Care to help make the holidays brighter for area children in need.
“All ages are invited to attend the event from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday,” said Gong. “There will be free food and free drinks and if you don’t want to bring a toy just come out and hang out with us. It (the event) is just to give back and be a part of the community.”
There are several local sponsors coming together like some food offerings provided by La Parrilla, Cakes by Jessica J, raffle donations by Kristal with Glam Salon, Dano with Soul Patch Tattoo, Go To Printer, and Palo Santo Café.
Each person that donates a new unopened toy will receive a raffle ticket that can be placed at the prize that is desired.
“Last year there were huge bags and boxes of toys,” remarked Gong. “We take them down to Central Valley Foster Care right down the street.”
They will have a DJ and refreshments. They will be offering free haircuts to kids, face painting and photos with Santa.
The event will be held inside the barbershop on Sunday. Gong noted that the bigger space will be great to host the event.
Hometown is a barbershop but Gong has plans to make it much more as he has a love for music and fashion. He originally opened Bruce’s Barber Shop on Atchison Street (Highway 108) in 2016 and has moved a couple times and has now settled into the spot at 3340 Santa Fe.
“It was scary but I knew the situation I was in there it was cheap enough in my mind to try it out,” stated Gong on opening his first shop. “It was a one-man shop. I didn’t have to worry about other people. I started cutting in 2010 so I had a decent amount of clientele so that really helped, having steady business coming in. The shop started to grow more and I added a chair there with a few different barbers and then I just kind of outgrew that.”
With deep roots in Riverbank and as a Riverbank High School alum from the Class of 2012, Gong knew he wanted to open shop in Riverbank and had his sights set on downtown.
After putting some thought into the name of his shop, Hometown seemed to be the right fit as Riverbank is his hometown.
“I have always been into streetwear and fashion,” added Gong. “When you put it (Hometown) on a T-shirt or something I think it looks cool. Deep down no matter where you are from … where you grew up really built you, whether you like it or not. Whether you leave or stay or have good things to say or bad things to say it made you who you are. It is what you stand on and what built you.”
They offer men’s grooming services including haircuts, shaves, and hot towel shaves at Hometown. They are open Monday through Saturday and closed on Sundays.
“I feel like we give a clean, family friendly, personable experience,” shared Gong. “It has a little something to it when you come in. It is hard to explain. To me it feels like home. So, when I wake up and come to work, I am excited. It is a good feeling. I love it; 100 percent.”
The one thing that Gong loves most about what he does is the relationships that he has built. He still has clients from his beginnings in 2010 and said that he feels like he has gone through life with them. The barbers in his shop are a close-knit family to him and at times “each other’s therapist.”
“Relationships is the most rewarding,” expressed Gong. “I have known people when we were in high school and now, they are married and have kids. I have cut some of their kids. Some of the coaches that coached me I was their son’s first haircut. I still cut his hair to this day.”
Gong was part of the first class that completed the program at Central Valley Barber College in 2014. Then he took the state test and got his Barber’s license and now he has his own shop in downtown Riverbank. For more information visit Hometown on their website at hmtwnshop.com or on Instagram at @hmtwn or call (209) 502-7086.