The reason for the season for many may have a religious meaning but for some kids the reason for the season may be a wonderfully wrapped toy under the Christmas tree. This may be a hard task to complete as some families have suffered hard times or struggle to make ends meet. This is the mission of the Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots program; to collect new, unwrapped toys and distribute them to those that are in need this Christmas. Partnering with the Marine Corps for the past five years bringing joy to families in the Riverbank community is Riverbank Unified School District/C.A.S.A. del Rio FRC, Central Valley Community Resources (CVCR), Valley Improvement Projects, and Boy Scouts Troop 1100, along with help from the people in the community.
“I think that there is a huge need for everyone to have a nice Christmas,” stated CVCR CEO Darlene Barber Martinez. “I think that people are very appreciative in our community and with all the partners that we have that are working together to make this happen; I appreciate them too. It takes a whole lot of people to put something on like this. Everybody helps. To see the kids, they are very happy coming to get some toys.”
This year there were 84 families with a total of 202 children in the Riverbank community that received gifts for Christmas. With the count being lower than normal and there being enough donations the kids received a little bit extra in their bags. Partner and volunteer Bianca Lopez explained that normally they have over 400 kids registered for the toy giveaway and at times have run out of toys for the older kids.
“The kids I think are really grateful to receive it,” said Lopez. “We have Santa here and the kids love to take pictures with him. I think they are going to get home and see that it was a good year.”
Families registered during November and the distribution was held this past Saturday, Dec. 15 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. where families picked up a variety of toys for their children. There was Christmas music playing and volunteers on hand. The ‘stocking stuffer’ table had a variety of items where each child was allowed to select some to take home. The Marines donated 14 bikes for different ages that were raffled off. Each child received a raffle ticket that was placed in a bag for a bike. They had boxes around the community in different businesses where folks could drop off new unwrapped toys for children from birth to 12 years old.
For the first time this year they held a community toy drive on Saturday, Nov. 17 for a few hours at the Save Mart in the Crossroads Shopping Center where they received over 100 toys for the cause. They also received several donations during the Christmas parade.
“We did really good that day,” added Martinez. “So compared to other years I think it was better this year for donations.”
There were treats for volunteers like coffee, donuts, pizza and candy that helped keep them energized for the event.
Besides the toys that the kids are able to take home, they also seemed to enjoy the visit from Santa Claus. They were able to sit on his lap and take a photo. Santa’s elf/assistant handed out candy canes to all that wanted one.
The auditorium at Cardozo had families coming in and out during the toy distribution with the youngsters smiling from ear to ear. Lopez added that there was a good mix of toys received for all ages and plenty of items to get kids outdoors like nerf balls, nerf guns, and games.
“I really want to thank the community for all of their donations; it really helped to make someone have a very Merry Christmas and just to see the kids light up their faces and be excited about Christmas,” expressed Martinez. “I just hope everybody, even though we have the material things, they also remember the reason for the season and that is our Lord Jesus Christ so I hope everybody keeps that in mind too.”