Local Groups Help Santa Bring Holiday Cheer

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Photos by Samantha SLAYBACK

Photos by Samantha SLAYBACK
Members of three local organizations collected donations of food and toys that were distributed on Saturday.

The CV Sheriffs, members of L.A. County Parks & Rec and the Early Rodders all show the strength of giving.

By Samantha SLAYBACK

For the past 30 years, the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station has been sponsoring an annual toy and food drive during the holiday season. This year, the station partnered with L.A. County Parks and Recreation for the first time.

On Saturday, Santa paid a visit to Crescenta Valley Park. Starting at 10 a.m., families were invited to enjoy a complimentary breakfast, take pictures with Santa Claus, pick out toys, and leave with two grocery bags full of food. Seven lucky families even left with brand new bikes courtesy of the event raffle.

The event was run by Sgt. Cynthia Gonzales who, with the help of several station volunteers who donated over 200 hours, made it all possible for the children and their families. Food and toys were collected starting in November and continuing up until the day of the event with most food coming from the Thanksgiving Day Run sponsored by the LCF Community Center. Most toys were collected from local schools including Crescenta Valley High School. Volunteers Bill Latuf and George Mohr were in charge of the food donations, while Ginger Hunnicutt handled the toy section with the help of Joann Latuf and Lisa Dutton.

Dutton has volunteered with the toy and food drive for the past 10 years. For the past two years, she has also dressed up to play Mrs. Claus for the Santa event. While dressing up is fun, she also explained how much work goes on behind the scenes.

“For the past four years, I have been in charge of contacting schools to find out which families are in need of a helping hand,” said Dutton. “Then we arrange for them to get toys and food for the holidays.”

Dutton also assisted with collecting, sorting, packing and delivering toys and food as needed.

Both Dutton and Latuf said that there is an average of 120 to 150 families that need help each year that includes between 300 and 350 children. This year’s event helped over 130 families.

“It’s a lot of work, but very rewarding, especially when I get to see the looks on the families’ faces,” said Dutton. “Once you do it, you want to come and help some more.”

Earlier in the day, members of the Early Rodders Car Club caravanned to Los Angeles County Fire Station 82 in La Cañada to deliver toys and food.

Many community members are familiar with the Early Rodders. The car club takes part in many community events, including the Montrose Christmas Parade, the Hometown Country Fair, the 4th of July Car Show, the 9/11 Tribute Cruise, and the Fiesta Days Parade. In addition, the Early Rodders donates to the annual holiday Spark of Love toy drive.

Early Rodders members have been meeting on a weekly basis, every Saturday morning in the parking lot of the United Artists Theater in La Cañada, since they began in 2001. Each week, about 100 classic cars show up to the theater parking lot. Gary Evans is one of the founders of the Early Rodders. Along with other Early Rodders members, he decided the group needed more ways to help their community. Together they came up with the idea of using their large numbers to donate to those in need around the holidays.

“This decision revolved around the idea of giving back,” explained active Early Rodders member Dave Mahr. “We start five weeks before Christmas, collecting toys for the drive at our regular Saturday meetings.”

On Saturday, the crew loaded up their cars and trucks with the donations of toys and drove to Fire Station 82 in La Cañada to drop off their donations with Early Rodders member Rick Chew leading the pack.

“Working for the Los Angeles Fire Dept. for 35 years has unfortunately allowed me to witness devastation occurring to families throughout the Los Angeles area as a result of catastrophes where families have lost lives and material items,” shared Chew. “The Christmas season has always been the time of year for giving back some love and joy.”

Being one of the original Rodders members, Chew is very involved with the car club and everything to which they contribute, including Spark of Love. He said that Early Rodders isn’t so much a club as a group of like-minded people who share a common interest – the love of motor vehicles.

“Early Rodders have been a delight to be associated with,” Chew said. “These car fanatics have always been generous in giving, and the Spark of Love program is a great opportunity to give to those less fortunate.”

The auto aficionados plan to continue donating to Spark of Love for years to come. Plans are already in the works for next year with the Early Rodders hoping to see community members, local schools, and local businesses participating with them. Their goal is to receive $10 worth of toy donations from each donor. Collections of donations for next year will begin three to four weeks prior to the last Saturday before Christmas at the Early Rodders regular venue: United Artists Theater at 1919 Verdugo Road in La Cañada.

“We thank everyone who brought a toy this year and hope that next year they will bring a friend who will also bring a toy,” said Mahr. “There is no better feeling than knowing that you helped to get some toys for those children who maybe wouldn’t have any for Christmas.”

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