Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's wife, Amy Wakeland, took the lead Wednesday at an event to stuff gift bags for senior citizens.
Wakeland launched a fundraising campaign last week after about 2,000 holiday presents for senior citizens were ruined when heat and smoke from a downtown fire set off sprinklers at the city's Department of Aging nearby. The city has since received more than $200,000 in donations, enough to buy supplies for more than 4,500 gift bags.
In a large hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center on Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of volunteers created a gift bag assembly line. While cheery holiday music played, the workers — some wearing Santa hats — filled bags with blankets, stamps, toothpaste, fuzzy socks, scarves and shampoo.
Wakeland signed cards, helped organize supplies and packed gift bags. She chatted and smiled for selfies with several volunteers.
In an interview, Wakeland said she wanted to champion this drive because she's interested in the city's senior citizens, and had already been planning to visit all the city's senior centers in the coming year.
Her concern for L.A.'s elderly population, she said, comes from her years as a social activist — work that she said focused on gender equity, environmental justice and disadvantaged populations.
"That's always been my personal interest, long before Eric became mayor," she said.
Garcetti showed up after Wakeland, and she gave him a tour of the event. The two of them stuffed a gift bag together and later did the same with their 3-year-old daughter Maya.
Tancy Pickett, a volunteer at the event, said she was happy to see Garcetti and Wakeland participating at the event, and not just giving lip service to the idea of helping others.
Pickett said she had seen Garcetti a few times at different events, "but I've never seen his wife before."
The gifts that were ruined last week were part of a Secret Santa-type program called Project CARE, which matches city employees with senior citizens in need. Most of the seniors in the program are low-income, live alone or don't have family nearby, said Department of Aging General Manager Laura Trejo.
Trejo said Wednesday that she was "delighted" by the donations and the volunteer turnout, and to see that Angelenos have such "wonderful hearts."