More than 1,200 toys handed out at Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana’s annual Winter Wonderland
The holiday season is about more than presents, but for some Orange County children presents are not guaranteed. In an effort to get a Christmas toy to each child and create a special holiday memory, the Boys & Girls Club of the Central Orange Coast hosted Winter Wonderland at the Santa Ana club on Dec. 17.
“Today we are distributing toys to over 500 kids in the Santa Ana community,” said Robert Santana, chief executive officer of the Boys & Girls Club of Central Orange Coast. “We have really made this event about a Christmas memory and experience.”
The Boys & Girls Club of the Central Orange Coast has 66 locations in Orange County that serves 9,500 youth annually. Close to 600 members lined up at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Ana on West Highland Street on Saturday for Winter Wonderland, an event that for many has become a holiday tradition.
Santana said events like Winter Wonderland are extremely important because they emphasize that everyone in the community is valued and cared for.
“The Boys & Girls Club for almost 80 years has been an institution and is always here for families, whether it is providing toys or school books,” Santana said. “We collect backpacks during the school year and get food out to the community for families that are food insecure.”
“For us, it is a commitment to make sure every family has that support system.”
Children arriving for the event were first matched with a Boys & Girls Club volunteer, or Santa’s helper, as the staff refers to them. The volunteer builds a rapport with the child and escorts them through the Winter Wonderland experience.
“First they start off in Mrs. Claus’s art studio,” said Santana. “They get to decorate their own Christmas ornament.”
Next, they walk through the “North Pole” where arched lights and fake snow lead to Santa’s Workshop inside the games room. In Santa’s workshop, hundreds of donated toys are stacked according to age group.
“The kids get to pick from whatever toy they would like,” Santana said.
Santa’s workshop is filled with toys from community and corporate partners, like Pacific Life and the Argyros Family Foundation, as well as organized toy drives. Orange City Fire Department, for example, dropped off a truckload of toys for the event.
“All the toys that we have here are collected by the community, for the kids in the community,” said Santana. “It is really special to us because for some of these kids that participate today, this may be the only toy they get during the holiday season.”
Baby Yoda and Star Wars toys along with Disney Princess toys were popular picks for younger kids while older kids went for bikes and skateboards.
After Santa’s workshop, kids meet Santa and Mrs. Claus. A professional photographer takes their photo together and prints it out on the spot to take home.
“The last station is hot cocoa and cookies,” said Santana. “The child is reconnected with their parents, and the volunteer goes all the way back to the beginning and meets the next member.”
Winter Wonderland is one of three holiday events coordinated by Boys & Girls Club of Central Orange Coast.
“Last week we distributed toys to our kids in the Orange sites that we have. Today, this is our biggest event in Santa Ana, and next week we will be distributing toys in Costa Mesa to the kids we serve in that community.”
While children are with their volunteer, parents are hosted at a nearby bilingual resource fair.
“We have additional resources, we give out special prizes and we connect them to additional support services in the community. That way the parents have some activities while their kid is in the space,” Santana said.
Santana said that while the kids are excited for toys, he hopes they get even more from the event.
“The goal today is not just a toy but that Christmas memory, that experience that should hopefully last a lifetime,” said Santana. “These events are really focused around making sure the Christmas spirit is alive and well in our community.”
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