Christmas morning was undoubtedly merrier for several hundred children who received presents donated by Thurston Middle School.
The Laguna Beach school donated more than 300 gifts — nearly double what they gave last year — to low-income families through the Laguna Beach Fire Department's Spark of Love Toy Drive. The school's leadership team on Dec. 14 gave a presentation and pizza lunch for Fire Chief Jeff LaTendresse and firefighters from Station 3, who loaded the gifts into a fire truck.
"Every year, I've continued to be impressed," said Leah Prettyman, leadership team advisor. The toy drive "is something that specifically helps the Laguna community and helps the students feel good about giving back."
The Spark of Love Toy Drive is an annual effort by fire departments around Southern California to collect unused gifts for "underprivileged kids who families don't have enough to go out and buy all these great toys," LaTendresse said.
Over the years, Laguna has been one of the largest contributors.
"I think it's what firefighters do: give back to the community," LaTendresse said.
Thurston Middle School collected toys for two weeks and the students responded quickly — all the ornaments, which gave students ideas of what age to buy for, were gone the first day, said leadership team member Liv Mitchell, 12.
The student's didn't just respond quickly, but went above and beyond with expensive toys like a giant teddy bear, full art easel and pink scooter.
"I'm just kind of dumbfounded there is so many toys under the tree," Liv said. "Hopefully, it just keeps getting bigger every year."
The toy drive is a chance for the students to display leadership, LaTendresse said. Prettyman said she also wants the middle schoolers to see that they can make a difference in their community.
For seventh-grade student and leadership team member Charlie Hutson, 12, it was a reminder not to take for granted that she gets so much for Christmas when others don't get anything.
"It's great to know we're making a difference and we're making a child happy," she said.
— Britney Barnes