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A Gift of Hope

A Gift of Hope

Toy Collaborative doesn’t just give children presents to open; it offers a message that they aren’t forgotten.

Jacqueline Hernandez knows what it’s like to be forgotten at the holidays. In foster care from the age of 3, she was moved from foster homes to group homes, and back again.

“It was easy to pack up because I had basically nothing, just a couple of dolls and maybe three outfits,” she writes. “I never had a proper holiday. I would never get any real presents. I could never ask Santa for a toy and know that it would be there on Christmas morning.”

Now a junior in high school, she has been adopted and has started a program to donate to children still in the foster system, particularly those in the smaller group homes that do not receive the attention of the larger charities. She started Project Family Life which helps provide clothes, presents and entertainment—anything to help them feel like “normal” kids.

“It’s about more than just getting a gift during the holidays,” says Todd Hanson, vice president of donor and community engagement for the Orange County Community Foundation. “We all need to feel we matter, and getting a gift from someone who doesn’t know you but cares about you does that for a child. There is so much more meaning than we realize.”

But have you ever wondered what happens to the donated toys? Where do they go? How are they sorted and distributed? How do they make their journey into the hands of children in need?

The answer: Orange County’s Toy Collaborative. The United States Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots, Orange County Fire Chiefs’ Association Spark of Love, Orange County Social Services Agency Operation Santa Claus and St. Vincent de Paul joined forces to form the Toy Collaborative when they realized that there were duplicative small holiday toy drives and that many of the most needy and deserving children were not being served.

The Toy Collaborative partners gather toys from outreach efforts throughout the community and bring them to a central warehouse. This massive warehouse is manned by volunteers and serves as a shared destination for all toy-donation drives to be organized before they are distributed throughout the region.

“The Orange County Toy Collaborative distributes more than 250,000 toys to children and families in Orange County through more than 320 nonprofit organizations,” says Anne Broussard, administrative manager for the county Social Services Agency’s Operation Santa Claus.

Volunteers sort the toys into hundreds of bins by age and gender and then they are sent out to one of the partner nonprofits serving foster children and vulnerable families who have no ability to provide a holiday gift for their child. Volunteers are needed to work every day the warehouse is open, and weekday help is particularly needed.

The impact of the simple gesture of donating a toy is beyond measure.

“Providing gifts for these children and their families allows us to provide a little normalcy for them, and, more importantly, give them hope,” Broussard says. “Hope that there will be brighter days ahead, hope in knowing they are not forgotten and alone, hope in working together to nurture and support the rising generation, hope that they will become self-sufficient, and hope that one day they will be able to give back.”

To learn more about how you can support local organizations working to provide toys this holiday season, visit Nonprofit Central at ocnonprofitcentral.org.

Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation. She can be reached at [email protected]

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