Activists Make Xmas Happen for Kids
By Dianne Anderson
Moving into his new location gives local community activist James Stapleton a better way to serve more kids, especially in the coming days as the toys they’ve been dreaming of fly off the shelves.
With the help of a distribution from Toys for Tots, he said his December 22 toy giveaway is open to all low-income parents that RSVP to him via email for an application. Parents must be low income, and a resident of Santa Ana.
With about 300 kids that live within the complex, he doesn’t think that finding kids in need is going to be a problem.
“The toy giveaway is going to be on the tennis court. I have plenty of kids over here, there should be at least 500 toys,” said Stapleton, director of M.A.G.I.C. Inc. Academy of the Arts in Santa Ana.
He also hosts a music program and supports scholarships for low-income youth, along with an after-school tutoring program. For the past seven years, he’s held the Santa Ana block festival with live entertainment, food vendors and Kids Land, all to bring more unity to the community.
“It’s been a beautiful thing. It’s to unite all races and we just have a ball,” he said.
Formerly, he said his outreach was held at Johnson Chapel AME Church facility. He proposed taking the program broader at the apartment community center where the kids can access on-site resources, and where he will continue mentoring and tutoring.
During the year, he said the youth in the program look out for each other, and they will be on-site to help distribute the toys. One of his students from the previous location started as a little seven-year-old drummer, and continues to volunteer at age 16.
“He’s teaching kids drumming lessons. If I don’t get but one [child], I’m blessed, but the object is to teach kids,” he said.
On Saturday, December 22, the Southwest Community Center is also hosting its annual toy giveaway.
Connie Jones, executive director of the center, will distribute food, toys, and resources to about 250 families through their annual Adopt-A-Family program. Several volunteers there will help corral the 300 to 400 kids that will get some party time with Santa from 1-3:00 p.m. at 1601 W. 2nd Street in Santa Ana.
She said they are still asking for donations.
“The need for us right now is to get gifts for the children, clothing items or toys. We’re preferably looking for toys from age eight and over,” she said.
Besides kids and families, they expect to serve about 100 seniors, who are dealing with high rent in the area. She said it is forcing them to make a sacrifice of things like food and medicine to pay the rent.
They’re on a fixed income.
“It’s not like they can go out to the temp agency and work 20 hours to make extra money to pay for their medication. If costs go up they don’t have anything to tap into,” she said.
The center provides them with food bags and a gift, such as Christmas stockings with socks, scarfs, lotions, and shampoos. The community can help by dropping off gift cards for local food markets or big box stores.
She said the seniors they serve are not just struggling 70 or 80-year-olds, some are disabled. One man lives in a facility that charges him $700 a month and $250 to eat.
“He’s been there two months, we told him that he can come here for [free] lunch every day. “We have people paying $1,500 a month for one bedroom. They go to more than one food bank to help subsidize.”
This year, the center is receiving 220 toys from Toys for Tots, but she is distributing toys for over 900 kids. They have requested help from the Boy Scouts, and are asking anyone who can help pitch in.
“We do the party with about 350 kids where they actually get to play some games. They get to see Santa and get a gift, and we adopt families, and try to guarantee them a toy and clothing items,” she said.
Each week, Ms. Jones also gives away grocery carts full of fresh vegetables, milk, and pastry.
As the years go by, memories her grandmother are still the foundation for why she continues to stay in the area serving those in need.
“She was one of a kind, the mold got broken with her,” she said.
Even so, one of her earliest memories was her grandmother asking her to take over the food pantry.
It left her conflicted. At the time, she didn’t feel she had the talent to meet the daily demands, and wasn’t ready to take on the responsibility that came with the heavy need that she saw her grandmother navigate so easily.
She told her grandmother no — that she felt too young for the task.
“It just goes to show you that you’re not in control of your life. The Lord is in control if you follow His will. He’s put people around me to carry on her legacy. There’s always a ram in the bush,” she said.
To request an application from Mr. Stapleton, email firstname.lastname@example.org
To donate to Southwest Community Center, call (714) 547-4073 or see, swcommunitycenter.org