The shy smiles of anticipation, the joyous laughter, the aroma of tamales, the sound of Santa ringing his bell as he arrives, the excitement in the air: This is what makes Christmas for me here in Gilroy.
Have you ever seen 50 children (of all ages) together in one room and having a good time, but maintaining good manners – and throughout a five hour event, nonetheless?
You should see how wide their eyes grow as each one files through the line in an orderly manner to choose a toy from a mountain of new, unwrapped presents.
For many of these children, this will be the only toy they receive this Christmas.
The annual Dec. 20 Migrant Toy Giveaway one of the most heartwarming experiences of my Christmas season. It benefits some of the most at-risk families in need in our community. These are families who live on the edge and could easily become homeless. People who work to make this event a success include folks such as Paula Pardue, manager of Pacheco Pass Self Storage, who collects blankets, sleeping bags and toys months ahead of time. She also offers a free storage unit for items collected by anyone else for the event.
Pardue lends a helping hand to these families who have been hardest hit in the current economic crisis, but continue to benefit society through their hard work and dedication to growing our crops.
The event is sponsored by Univision Radio, the largest Hispanic radio company in the nation that donates toys to the drive held in Wesley Hall on Church Street in Gilroy.
DJ Piolin, from Univision San Francisco, hosts the party and broadcasts the event live from a mobile radio unit. He coaxes some of the children to come up and speak into his microphone, which the kids get a kick out of.
Last year, Gilroy’s branch of the International Order of Odd Fellows donated gift cards to the event in order to help families purchase staples such as rice and beans. A big bag of rice or beans can be stretched by a family to carry them for many weeks during the winter months until work resumes in the fields again.
Initiated five years ago by Pastor Alison Berry and Don O’Dell, in collaboration with others in Gilroy who work in migrant education and in the fields performing back-breaking labor, the Toy Giveaway has grown to become an event that many other organizations and individuals now join in to help with. This is the kind of collaborative event which brings a diversity of people together in a new way.
A crew of young Hispanic volunteer men serve at the event, performing tasks such as heavy lifting, arranging the presents and helping clean up afterwards. Last year during the event, they decorated their first-ever Christmas tree.
These emancipated youths work here in our local fields. They are responsible, well-behaved young men who are working on getting their education but receive no support from their families. Volunteering at this event is a way for them to prepare for life in this country and to learn how to better interact with a wide range of people in a collaborative way.
I am rewarded beyond measure by the experience of working hand-in-hand in a proactive approach to making our community stronger and healthier with the generous support of partners such as: Paula Pardue, the students who volunteer (and receive community service credit), and people who donate toys and gifts. This includes Julie Bradbury of the Magnolia Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star; Marilyn Mitri of the Gilroy Lions Club, Barbara Gailey, Heather and Julia Brodersen and Mike Guevara, who donated six cases of children’s books last year.
Bill, Tina and Andrew Bartunek drive from Morgan Hill to volunteer their help at the event, as does Sonya Hagan. Retired IBM employee Howard Hall makes use of his Spanish skills to connect with the children, and his wife Joyce, a nurse, helps with gifts for the parents, bringing a bit of Christmas cheer for them as well. Homemade cookies donated by people such as Claudia Salewske and Pat Freitas are something the children look forward to as well.
To see the sweet results of such unselfish giving shine through on the faces of these humble, hard-working people who ask for so little and who take nothing for granted is to experience the meaning of celebrating Christ’s birth through new eyes. In a model of how peace on earth could look, I find myself imagining Gilroy’s Toy Giveaway on an even grander scale: A world in which individual differences in belief, style, political views, socio-economic status, age and race no longer separate and divide us. If only Christmas could last year round.
To donate or get more information, please call Kat at (408) 607-2442.