By Brandon HENSLEY
Jorge Valdivia knows this is important, because he grew up on the other side. When Valdivia was 9, his father passed away and his five siblings were raised by their mother in East L.A. Suffice to say, the Christmas tree every year was lonely beneath.
Valdivia said his mother bought just one gift the whole family could play with.
“It was usually something like an air hockey table, something like that,” he said.
But now he’s grown up with a wife and kids of his own, and being deputy of the Crescenta Valley’s Sheriff’s Station affords him not only the opportunity to give his kids a more special Christmas than he had, but one for needy families all over the foothills as well.
The opportunity was certainly there on Saturday, Dec. 22 inside the empty building of Bob Smith Toyota on the south side of Foothill Boulevard. The annual Sheriff’s Toy and Food Drive distribution was held bright and early, the operative word being “bright.”
“It’s actually clear today,” said volunteer Lisa Dutton. “It’s rained the last three years we’ve done it.”
CV Sheriff’s members and other volunteers from L.A. County separated toys into age and gender specific groups, as well as canned food for their families. They bundled them into large teal bags, and went off into the community to drop off the goods at select homes.
Valdivia said this year over 400 kids were scheduled to receive three to four toys each.
“This year has been good,” he said. “I hope they remember this growing up.”
Valdivia, who organizes the event, said the station has been doing the toy drive for over 25 years. The donation period is between Thanksgiving and about the middle of December. Donation barrels could be found throughout the town in various businesses and schools, and especially at the CV Sheriff’s Station, which accepted donations 24 hours a day.
“All the volunteers are working diligently to obtain donations of food and toys and organizing it,” said station Capt. David Silversparre. Volunteers included reserve deputies and those who work for the station but aren’t sworn officers.
Dutton, who is co-coordinator of CV CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) with her husband Paul, volunteers at the station year-round. On that Saturday, she stayed behind at Bob Smith while others headed out to drop off, making sure everyone had the right sheets that told where they were supposed to go. Dutton acts as a liaison between the families and the schools in which the kids attend by picking up the toys at the schools.
In some cases, the kids are homeless, said Dutton, and so the volunteers deliver goods to the schools instead.
“The school will say, ‘They don’t have a home, they got kicked out of their home but they still go to our school. Can you help them?’” she said.
The Sheriff’s station delivers to families in Burbank, Shadow Hills, Sunland-Tujunga, La Crescenta and to some who people might not think have the need for a visit.
“There are even homes in La Cañada Flintridge as well,” said Silversparre.
The schools give the station the families’ addresses. Those that are chosen to receive gifts are given two week’s notice to accept.
“They get back to us if they do not want help,” said Dutton. “If they have moved, sometimes the paperwork comes back to us, too.”
Valdivia said sometimes it’s hit and miss. Delivery is done in the morning because that’s when it is most likely people will be home. He said gifts cannot be left at the front door, and in that case the bags are brought back to the station.
Regardless, Valdivia said the effort to bring the holiday spirit to those who may need it most is noble.
“When you get the ones in dire need, that makes it all worthwhile,” he said.
“I just think it’s honorable,” said Silversparre. “This program sometimes brings tears to the eyes of the needy families who can’t afford not only food but toys for children.”