Anyone who has ever truly felt the Christmas spirit knows the essence of gratitude is giving and sharing with others, and fostering the human connection to which the holiday's namesake dedicated the full force of his life.
On Wednesday, several fathers from in and around La Cañada got to share that magic with their own children, while across town kids they'd never met opened gifts under Christmas trees and families sat down to holiday meals that had been provided courtesy of their kindness.
Fathers and children in the YMCA of the Foothills' Tribes program adopted 10 local families in need this year, all chosen by Salvation Army Glendale to participate in its annual Adopt-A-Family program. Together, donors shopped to fulfill wish lists detailing first names, ages, personal needs and "dream gifts."
La Cañada dad Ed Ancu shopped with daughters Emma, 6, and 8-year-old Elise, whose tribe, Cayuga, adopted a family of five. Tribe members met at a local store to pick out goodies.
"It was fun, because I don't typically go shopping with my daughters," Ancu said. "But we had a good time, and I think I'd like to do it again."
Elise and Emma helped their dad figure out the very best things to get. Later, Cayuga dad Les Forsay picked up a tree at the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA tree lot, which gave tribes the option of including a fir with their donations, before dropping off the goods at the Salvation Army.
For years, Salvation Army Glendale has identified the neediest families registering for its annual Toy & Joy toy drive and offered them a spot in the Adopt-A-Family program, said Corps Officer Jessica Sneed. Often these families face adversities beyond poverty, such as terminal illness or homelessness, which drain all merriment out of the holidays.
"We try to take a holistic approach. It's not just [based on] income," she added.
This year, enough donors volunteered to serve 75 families — 15 more than last year. Salvation Army staff sorted the goods and arranged them according to identification numbers on several tables in advance of a Dec. 16 pick-up.
That Monday morning, parents and grandparents arrived to pick up the items, not knowing what they might expect. Sneed said some cried when they saw how much donors had given them. For many, this meant the difference between giving kids a few bargain-store items and exactly what they'd asked for from Santa.
"I cry all day on this day, because it's phenomenal to think of what donors have done to make a difference in the lives of these families," Sneed said, her eyes glistening. "Yeah — it's a good day."
Craig Strazzeri, director of the YMCA's Healthy Living Department, said he hopes the Tribes program might adopt more families next Christmas, as the event was a great way to bring fathers and children closer together in the spirit of giving back during the holidays.
That certainly seemed to be the case for Kirk Dilbeck, whose 8-year-old daughter, Arwyn, helped select items to be shopped for and donated by her tribe, the Foothill Blossoms.
"I think we were able to get everything on the list and a food card as well," Dilbeck said of the donation. "It was really, really nice to be able to do this for this family."
In return, one family on the receiving end this year expressed a personal note of thanks to its donor family with a homemade Christmas ornament made from the footprint of a child named Jesus, cast in plaster and painted to resemble a bearded Santa face.
On the back was written a simple message: "Thank you for being angels. God bless."
Update: Four missing bicyclists were ill-equipped for elements, found in Angeles National Forest
Kenneth Schechter dies at 83; Navy pilot performed heroic blind landing
Vons to part with plaza after $36 million sale to real estate company