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Downtown L.A. fire destroys hundreds of Christmas gifts for seniors

Water damage from downtown fire destroys hundreds of seniors' Christmas presents

For some, this year's holiday tale could be "How the fire stole Christmas."

The blaze that erupted early Monday in a partly built apartment structure in downtown Los Angeles also shattered windows and set off sprinklers inside an adjacent building on Figueroa Street, where the city's Department of Aging rents space.

There, on the third floor, approximately 2,000 Christmas gift bags were soaked with water and destroyed, said department general manager Laura Trejo, shortly after she returned from a visit to the site Monday evening. 

Department staff members had planned to begin passing out the presents this week to L.A. senior citizens, she said.

"It's enough to break your heart," Trejo said.

The gifts were part of a Secret Santa-type program called Project CARE, which matches city and Los Angeles Police Department employees with senior citizens in need. Presents include sweaters, socks, DVDs, lamps and food.

Trejo said most of the seniors in the program are low-income, live alone or don't have family nearby. The department reaches out to them, she said, because they "may be in need of a loving recognition this time of year," she said.

Trejo said the department would try to collect present donations again, but doesn't know how without a building to work from.

"We can't even ask people to give us anything, because we wouldn't know where to have it sent," she said.

Instead, Trejo has set up a fund through the Los Angeles Foundation on Aging to accept cash donations, with which she hopes to purchase items to replace the gifts. She hopes to give them out by the end of the year.

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