The Laguna Relief and Resource Center has helped bring holiday cheer to adopted families since 1993, but unexpected help came this year.
Smart Circle International, an Orange County marketing company, announced Monday that it will provide gifts and necessities for 17 of the estimated 100 families in the center's Holiday Adopt-a-Family program.
All of the adopted families live or work in town or have children in the Laguna Beach Unified School District.
"Usually, someone calls and the most they want to adopt is one family," said Sande St. John, who has been organizing the center program with Marsha Bode since its inception.
Smart Circle will hold in-house toy drives at its headquarters in Foothill Ranch. Employees will be encouraged to donate toys and other gifts for the children throughout December, with the goal of collecting 96 presents for the families.
The company will supplement the employee contributions to ensure each child receives at least two new toys or gifts.
Each of the 17 families will also receive a $75 gift card to buy groceries and a $125 gift card to buy clothing or personal items from a major retailer, according to Brooke Tyson, a project manager at Smart Circle who is organizing the event.
Families were selected by center volunteers, based on how they matched up with the company office locations.
"I was looking for some way for my family to give back to the community and I saw the Relief and Resource Center Adopt-a-Family program on the Montage [Resort & Spa] website," Tyson said. "I was just going to adopt one family, but then I went to the company owner and said this would be a great program to get involved in. Maybe we could adopt a couple of families. He said fine — up to 20."
Tyson said the economy has made it tough for some families just to make ends meet, and Christmas could be bleak.
"We are always looking for ways to encourage our employees to give back to their local communities and causes they feel strongly about, especially during the season of giving," said Sharon Celis, Smart Circle human resources director. "We hope this toy drive and Adopt-a-Family initiative will not only brighten the lives of these families matched with Smart Circle, but also inspire community involvement now and into the new year."
However, the center's commitment to the less fortunate does not end with the holiday season.
Created in the aftermath of the 1993 firestorm that ravaged Laguna, the center brought together those in need with the agencies and resources to serve their needs and continued to do so in subsequent disasters.
Money raised by the center helped keep the survivors afloat after the 1993 firestorm, the landslide in 2005, the floods of 2010 and other less dramatic events.
The group also runs the pantry in Laguna Canyon, which provides food, clothing and referral services year round. They strive to prevent homelessness and to provide support services to the homeless and low-income folks in town in a way that encourages self-sufficiency and inspires independence.