Toy drive faces tall order

With many more foothill-area residents facing financial trouble than in previous years — including more families than ever in La Canada Flintridge —organizers of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station Annual Toy and Food Drive are still hoping for cash and toy donations to benefit nearly 500 children this year who might otherwise go without anything under the Christmas tree.

On Saturday the Crescenta Valley Station Volunteers will begin to distribute food and toys to 457 children from struggling area families and, if donations keep coming in, perhaps up to 20 more who remain on a waiting list.

"We think it's the economy, really, that has the numbers of families we try to help up from 139 last year to 182, with more on the waiting list," said Joanne Berg, a longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident who has helped organize the drive since 1999. "We'll try to fill the needs of every kid we can."

Though donations appear to have picked up recently, there are still dozens of children for whom Christmas looks bleak, said Berg. Cash donations would help organizers purchase additional toys that may be needed after all donation bins have been collected this week, she said.

Berg said organizers are typically forced to purchase additional gifts appropriate for teen boys — such as skateboards and sports equipment, avoiding electronic items that require batteries and other accessories — which tend not to show up as often in bins.

But there is good news: Upon hearing of that particular need Tuesday, Sport Chalet CEO Craig Levra immediately contacted Berg to pledge a number of items, including footballs, soccer balls and skateboards in order to help fill the gap, said executive assistant Jeff Culbertson.

Sport Chalet also houses a donation bin at its La Cañada Flintridge corporate office.

Beneficiaries of the Toy and Food Drive are identified by staff of schools and programs serving communities that include La Cañada, La Crescenta, Montrose, Tujunga, Sunland, Pacoima, Sylmar and San Fernando.

Berg said La Cañada schools have identified more than a dozen families in need of help.

"This is one of the toughest years ever," said Evelyn Anguiano, a Volunteers of America Head Start program coordinator in the north San Fernando Valley who helped identify needy families this year. "The families I've identified this year are ones just recently having problems at home," she said.

Anguiano and Berg said many families they're hoping to help for the holidays have struggled with home foreclosures, job loss and other personal misfortunes, such as fires or loss of a family member.

"You have families where the father has just walked away and left mom to take care of the kids, and they couldn't make it with dad around," said Berg.

In addition to one or two toys per child, families receive two bags of groceries — most of which have been collected by area schools — and a $20 grocery gift certificate purchased from the proceeds of the Crescenta Station Volunteers' annual Rummage Sale.

"It's a good thing that I think kids will remember the rest of their lives," said Dep. Jorge Valdiva, community relations officer for the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station, who helps volunteers organize the drive and deliver food and toys. "These kids eyes just light up."

Last-minute donors should make checks out to "Crescenta Valley Station Volunteers," note "Toy and Food Drive" on the check and mail or deliver it to the Crescenta Valley Sheriff's Station, c/o Toy Drive, 4554 Briggs Ave., La Crescenta, 91214.

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