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Toys in store for tots and teens

COC cafeteria transformed into toy shop for families in need

Posted: December 20, 2008 6:59 p.m.
Updated: December 21, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Arturo Chacon, from Canyon Country, picks out a soccer ball as a Christmas present for his son during the Santa Clarita Sheriff Station's toy drive Saturday at College of the Canyons. The event, which took place from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., allowed more than 500 pre-registered families to pick out gifts for their children.

The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station and community volunteers transformed the College of the Canyons cafeteria into a decorative and bustling toy shop Saturday providing an opportunity for more than 500 less-fortunate parents to shop for holiday gifts for their children.

"We thought we weren't going to have any presents this year," said Juana Sesenes of Canyon Country with a smile and a bag full of toys around her wrist. "We've been through a lot. I lost my job. So we thought we'd have nothing for the kids."

Sesenes' 17-year-old daughter Bertha Aragonez was happy to help her mom pick out presents because she didn't think she and her five siblings were going to get any gifts.

The SCV Sheriff's Station has been collecting toys during the holidays for its annual Toy Drive for 20 years, according to the station's Web site. The station used to distribute the donated gifts to different households. But in the past three years, the station transformed the drive into a toy shop venue so families could actually pick the presents they wanted.

Sgt. Gregg Lewison said the relatively new "shop" setting is much more efficient and appropriate for family wants and needs, and it's much less wasteful.

After weeks of accepting toy donations from various businesses and locations around Santa Clarita, the station had tables loaded with DVDs, dolls, stuffed animals, trucks, games and much more from which families could choose. Parents or guardians paid three dollars per child or teen to receive two presents each and a few extra family gifts.

The sheriff's station works with local schools and organizations such as the SCV Food Pantry to identify and locate Santa Clarita families who are in need of extra help during the holidays, said event coordinator and sheriff's deputy Laurie Baylis of community relations.

This year they had 511 families and 1,384 children registered. Although there was only a slight increase in numbers, Baylis said they saw more families with dire situations, such as loss of a home, this year.

"It's great because we needed all the help we could get this year," said Shana Magill of Canyon Country. "I was just surprised to see all the people and everyone willing to help. It's just a great thing they're doing for everyone out here."

Baylis and other sheriff's deputies were grateful for the incredible help they received from the community.

"We had no problem fulfilling what we needed," said Baylis, referring to the quantity of toys that flooded in from the community as well as the number of volunteers from local churches, businesses, schools and organizations.

"The donations were phenomenal and we had volunteers like you wouldn't believe," Baylis said.

Several employees of Princess Cruises donated hours to provide free gift-wrapping services. Samantha Pebley said she decided to participate when she received the request for volunteers from the company's public relations and human resources departments.

"When I was young my mom couldn't really afford gifts so it kinda touched home when they sent out the e-mail," Pebley said.

Jennifer Williams and Matt Frandson were amid the mix of volunteers wearing elf hats and helping parents pick out their gifts.

"It's been really busy and there are a lot of families that are very happy with the program," said Williams, a College of the Canyons student who volunteered through an honors program. "I've been here since 9 a.m. and it hasn't stopped."

By "it," Williams was referring to the long line of people that expanded past the college book store and almost past the administrative offices even four hours after doors opened.

"They seem so happy and so thankful," said Frandson, who volunteered through the Christ Lutheran Church.

Even after an hour of waiting in line with her husband, Elizabeth Johnson of Newhall expressed her appreciation for the program.

"I'm really grateful I get to give my kids something because this year has been really difficult on us," she said. Johnson's husband, Noya Clemmons, said he was happy to get something for their three kids because it is the new family's first Christmas together.


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