Central Valley Community Resources (CVCR) along with other partners coordinated the third Toys for Tots distribution at Cardozo Middle School this past Saturday for children, ages birth to 12, in the Riverbank community. The U.S Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program’s mission is to hand out toys as Christmas gifts to less fortunate children. This year with the help of approximately 30 volunteers and toy donations from the Marine Corps and the community, 166 families with a total of 398 children received toys just in time for the Christmas holiday. The toy distribution began at 1 p.m. and ended at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 17.
“The community came out, the volunteers came out to help and it was really an awesome, excellent event,” said Darlene Barber Martinez, CEO of the CVCR. “We partnered with the Marines and they did a lot of our collecting. But we put our boxes out in the community like maybe three weeks ago and the community came through for us, too.”
The Marines donated four bikes and the Riverbank Chamber of Commerce donated two more which were raffled off along with a very large stuffed banana.
With a love for the community and the city of Riverbank, Martinez said when she sees a need she tries to fulfill that need.
“That is one of the biggest reasons why I joined city council was because I felt that I could make a difference,” noted Martinez. “I have been giving back all my life and so it is just part of me.”
Volunteers arrived early in the morning to bag the toys and label them so that when the families came to pick them up they were ready to go. If for some reason families registered and forget to pick up their toys, volunteers call them to make that connection so that everyone gets the toys for their kids.
“Some actually have forgotten,” said Martinez. “We are just glad that we can make those calls and make that connection.”
New this year families that registered had to bring their identification and proof of residency in Riverbank.
Volunteer Bianca Lopez has been a part of the toy distribution for the past three years with her non-profit Valley Improvement Project.
“I think we are getting the hang of the organization of it all,” said Lopez. “We did ask people to bring a verification of their address and an ID of the person that registered.
“The point was to make sure that it is Riverbank children that are receiving the toys.”
Staff from Casa del Rio family resource center assisted with the family registration and they made fliers that were distributed to children in all the schools as well as in the community.
The kids receive one toy each dependent on age and gender and whether they are a single child or from a larger family.
There was a shortage of toys for the ages 0 to 3 and 10 to 12 groups. The Marine Corps, CVCR and others will try to fill that void and deliver toys to those that registered but did not receive toys.
“They were really appreciative this year and we did feel that a lot more,” added Lopez. “The kids were really excited that Santa was here and giving away candy canes.”
The CMS after school program students decorated the area where Santa sat to make the background more festive for pictures.
Volunteers were treated to pizza sponsored by Valley Improvement Project. There were volunteers from Riverbank High School, Soul Patch Tattoo, Living Grace Church, Oakdale High School, from the community Boy Scout Troop #1100, Community Praise Tabernacle of Riverbank, Girl Scout Troops #3451 and #3509, and a toy donation by Pleasanton Wells Fargo Bank Dealer Service as well as a few all the way from Antioch.
With the collaboration of all the people that stepped up to donate or help with the distribution, several children will have new toys this Christmas.
To keep in the spirit of giving and a Christmas message, Martinez added, “Remember the reason why we celebrate Christmas and just take care of each other and always have a loving heart. Even though it may not be Christmas, check on each other, love each other and we just need to try to have more peace in the world.”