NILAND — The grounds of the Grace Smith Elementary School were filled with the laughs and smiles of at least 100 children who got toys and books during the annual toy giveaway here Saturday.
The event was put together by a coalition of big-hearted organizations and individuals including the Marine Corps Toys for Tots, Volunteers of America, the Calipatria Unified School District, Imperial County firefighters, the Sheriff’s Office and the El Centro Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Though this year the original umbrella organization, the Top Hatters Motorcycle Club Imperial Valley Chapter, wasn’t involved, the contacts and framework were already in place.
Chris Hawkins said he saw an opportunity and said to himself, “Why not make this happen again.”
In four months he called upon the various agencies and got everything ready to serve Niland children, who live in arguably the poorest area of an already economically challenged county.
Books, toy cars, dolls, and LEGOS are just some of the things the agencies gathered and children got.
The gifts brought a wide smile to Joshua Martines, 6, who after meeting Santa examined his LEGOS and his book nonstop.
And though he liked his book, Joshua said he liked his LEGOS better because they came with a toy car.
Joyse Quiroz, 5, was standing nearby.
“I love my present so much. Thank you Santa,” said Joyse, who got a stuffed dog she called “Barbie.”
Her mother, Rafaela Muñoz, said she was thankful to all the groups.
“I’m glad that they do this,” said Muñoz as she walked away with her children.
Parent Maria Ramos, was also thankful.
“I’m very happy that there are people with a heart so big to give presents to others,” said Ramos in Spanish.
And while the residents were thankful for the gifts, volunteers were happy to provide.
“It was fun looking at the kids getting their toys,” said volunteer Marian Felix, 11.
Imperial County sheriff’s Sgt. Cheryl Fowler was also glad to be part of the event and said the favorite part was “seeing the smile on the children’s faces.”
Shortly after, children and parents were mostly gone and by 11:15 a.m., volunteers were cleaning up while listening to Christmas tunes.
Ronnie Ronning, with the Marine Corps League, danced briefly, while Jesus Marin, also with the Marine Corps, was putting things away nearby.
After joking about Santa Claus coming this year in a sheriff’s patrol car as if he had gotten in some trouble with the law, Marin noted this year’s event was a success and said he expected this toy giveaway tradition to continue.
Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or email@example.com
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