COSTA MESA — Alex Lopez didn't care what he would get for Christmas. He just wanted something — a gift from Santa under his tree to open on Christmas day.
Before this year, when a group of nonprofit organizations along with South Coast Plaza collaborated to throw a Christmas party for 400 homeless and motel children, the 13-year-old, who lives at a shelter with his brothers and mother in Garden Grove, would have nothing for Christmas.
"We've all been through hard times; we got no presents on Christmas day," he said. "So, I really don't care about what I get as long as I get something and have a Christmas with my family."
The Gifts of Love was organized and presented by South Coast Plaza, The Happiness Project in Huntington Beach, the Young Presidents' Organization YPO Southern California Chapter in Irvine and the Festival of Children Foundation in Costa Mesa for underprivileged children from around the county Friday from 9 p.m. to midnight.
The event took over the shopping center's Santa's Village and provided a variety of activities for the children whose ages ranged from 3 to 18.
They also enjoyed dinner, snakes and entertainment provided to them by a magician, who did fun tricks.
"We wanted our kids to help children in need and show them the importance of giving back to the community," said Brian Murphy, president of YPO.
There were almost as many volunteers as there were children. Each child had a volunteer, or an "elf" who accompanied them on each one of their journeys during the party — from taking them on a carousel ride to the holiday arts and crafts area to the nail salon and the airbrushing wing.
They also took them to Santa to take a picture, and they held their bags of gifts that were age and gender appropriate. The children were instructed to not open the bag until Christmas day.
One of those elves was Sofia Dougal of Newport Beach. The 7-year-old said she felt sad for those who don't have what she has and she wanted to help.
"I'm here to help those kids have a Christmas," she said. "They don't have any toys or presents. I like to help people, and I don't want them to be sad."
Susan and Andy Kirkpatrick were also among those elves. The Newport Beach residents have no children of their own; they heard of the party and wanted to help.
"We have so much that we'd like to give back," Susan Kirkpatrick said. "This is our own way of enjoying Christmas with children."
Ryleigh Medart was talkative and ready to meet Santa. The 7-year-old, who didn't remember where she lives, was preparing to ask Santa for a puppy.
"Because puppies are cute and fun to play with," she said. "I want a boxer one."
Kevin, 16, and Nester Ocampo, 18, have had many blue Christmases. They recently left the shelter they lived in with their mother and the rest of their siblings to avoid an abusive step-father.
While the brothers were looking forward to enjoying a fun night, they wanted their 3-year-old brother, Jonathan, to see Santa.
"It feels nice to be doing something for Christmas," said Nester Ocampo. "Usually, we don't do anything. We usually just have dinner and some Christmas lights."