Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bringing Santa To South L.A.

At a quarter to nine yesterday morning, as I was pulling in to APCH, the line had already started. We would not be giving away toys until 1:00 PM, and the line was already around the corner from 29th Street reaching down Central Avenue. Soon I was told that in the past people have camped out for a place in line.

After a staff breakfast, the entire place went to work. Toys were still being delivered after the toy giveaway began, so for the whole day we had people sorting toys into appropriate age groups. We put the merchandise into gift bags - perhaps 2,500 of them. The line soon extended several blocks. People were stamped on the wrist as they departed, to prevent repeat visits. A whole lot of happy children came and went. Children arriving with their parents were greeted inside by Juliana in a Santa Hat, who shouted back orders such as, "Boy! 8!" and "baby girl!" and runners worked their way around the dance room, now stuffed with bags of gifts, until - long after dark - there was nothing left to give the stragglers.

There was talk of handing out tickets for the remaining gifts, so that people who were just too late could at least go home instead of waiting in that line. Other heads were concerned about the real possibility of fighting for the tickets - there had been fights in the line during the day, a line that didn't shrink until nightfall.

The donations came from all kinds of sources. A wealthy investor went on a shopping spree, buying up a vanload of toys in addition to toys for every child who happened to be in the store that day. We also received shipments from warehouses with surplus they wanted to dump, or promotional items, some of which we discarded. Some people really think it's a great idea to give kids from South L.A. gun toys - or maybe they aren't thinking at all.

Another howler was the shipment of cricket bats from the BBC. Because Los Angeles is such a big cricket town, you know. Big hefty deadly weapons, these things. We disposed of them. Another screamer was the pallet's worth supply of Republican and Democrat presidential campaign souvenirs - going back to 2000. Yes, we had Gore/Lieberman donkeys and Bush/Cheney elephants, with clock radios in their chests that no longer worked. How good would we feel about giving out broken toys? How good would we feel about giving people mementos of a president who cared nothing for them and their problems? We moved these boxes into the back.

And the sun went down and we kept on handing out toys. Some teamsters came out and volunteered their time - all of them employees of UPS and used to all of this, the only difference being today they could do it in jeans and Santa hats. The company provided boxed lunches from Subway and everyone left bone-tired.

At the end, we put together bags for stragglers - assembled with the stuff that was left: laniards, keychains, strange little books, JEOPARDY sweatshirts, Lakers teddy bears, and funny wigs (it was some Superbowl souvenir).

In the end, we even broke out the donkeys and elephants. We figured that as long as we distributed them in pairs, it was fair; and enterprising parents could always cut off the politicians and be left with a decent dolly for their baby.

And after I left, there was one more Christmas errand.

From time to time throughout 2006, a certain friend kept mentioning a desire to pick up guitar. A few weeks ago, I contrived to bring him with me to a music store - the conceit was that I was "Christmas shopping," and in a sneaky way that is actually true: I wanted to see what he did in the music store. Sure enough, he was nosing about the guitars and trying them out.

Being in no position to buy someone a guitar, a few mutual friends together, one of whom found a good deal for a beautiful classical guitar, and Sarah is going to give him lessons. Last night, we presented him with his gift (he leaves town this morning) and Sarah taught him his first two chords. His reaction was delightful.

It is fun to be an elf.


Anonymous said...

you make a good elf. villainous nose and all.

j said...

three cheers for you my friend. have a merry season, stay warm and dry. skroy and i will tip santa what a good boy you've been this year.