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Lending families a hand

Record demand for donations is met thanks to final push from community.

December 25, 2009|By Christopher Cadelago

A last-minute push from firefighters and the community helped the Family Service Agency of Burbank meet a record demand from families in need of holiday toys, officials reported.

Firefighters in the days leading up to Christmas Eve dropped off more than 1,000 action figures, dolls and board games, filling a room inside the agency’s Burbank Boulevard office to the ceiling. In all, about 2,000 toys awaited the rush of 700 families, organizers said.

The toy-store-like scene inside “Santa’s Room” elated Pat Smola, an agency employee who began organizing toy giveaways seven years ago and has done so every year since.


“A little bit of heaven is how I describe this place,” said Smola, pacing the room full of Bratz dolls, Legos and Nintendo games. “I can’t tell you what this means to people and what this means to us. Every year it’s the best therapy I can get.”

Nonprofits worried that the cancellation of Metrolink’s Holiday Toy Express, where residents donate hundreds of unwrapped toys for needy families, would leave some children empty-handed.

Burbank firefighters came to depend on the decorative locomotive to spur toy donations from for the Spark of Love campaign. The loss of the event due to rain came as orders for toys to the Family Service Agency more than doubled, Smola said.

It’s a trend that has multiplied across the country. Toys for Tots, the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve program that began more than 60 years ago in Los Angeles, reported a 10% to 15% drop in the number of collected toys, with corporate cash donations down about $1.5 million from last year, the organization reported.

Burbank Fire Engineer John Freeborn said his department was struggling to meet the demand from nonprofits like the Family Service Agency and Burbank Temporary Aid Center, prompting a series of public service announcements to businesses and residents on Burbank TV6.

The Metrolink event typically brought Burbank about 200 toys for the areawide “Spark of Love” campaign, Freeborn said.

The successful push came after the largest toy giveaway in the region reached more than 3,500 children from across Burbank and Glendale this weekend.

At the New Horizons Family Center in Glendale, volunteers worked for more than a month to buy, collect and sort the thousands of Barbie dolls, Batman action figures and make-believe firefighter masks leading up to the event.

Because of the tough economy, both events were possible only because of donations from community and corporate groups, the nonprofits said. In Burbank, dozens of volunteers throughout the weekend joined in the efforts of the Coordinating Council and Temporary Aid Center.

On Wednesday, Page and Debbie Moseley delivered a pickup truck loaded with more than 200 toys to the Family Service Agency.

Both volunteer members of the Burbank Moose Lodge, the pair held a recent benefit concert headlined by Page Moseley’s band, Schmang-A-Dang, in which they raised more than $1,000.

Smola said the appreciation is palpable.

“They come in and have never seen some of these newer toys before because the money isn’t there,” she said. “Now I tell them, ‘Go spend your money on food for the family. The toys are taken care of.’”

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