Friday, 12 July 2024

Toys for Kids makes Christmas wishes come true for the 14th year

Members of the Toys for Kids team, including Congressman Mike Thompson and Santa Claus, on Saturday, December 19, 2009, at the Lake Transit bus barn in Lower Lake. Photo courtesy of Bob Minenna.




LAKE COUNTY – With the tough times, the Christmas spirit was especially needed this year, and once again it came through in many giving campaigns.

That was true of the Toys for Kids fundraiser and toy drive, which last Saturday gave out toys and Christmas cheer to children in need and their families.

Toys for Kids is a nonprofit effort started by a group of local volunteers and Congressman Mike Thompson.

Brad Onorato, Thompson's district representative, said this is the toy drive's 14th year, and it was both a successful and heart-wrenching effort.

“I think this year the need was bigger,” he said.

Onorato said the annual toy drive started when some Clearlake residents called him several years ago and said they were having trouble raising money to buy toys for low-income children.

Thompson and his staff decided that year that, rather than have a Christmas party, they would donate their money to buying toys.

“And every year it grew after that,” said Onorato, who explained that Toys for Kids became a nonprofit about nine years ago.

Mel Aust is the chair, while Thompson is chairman emeritus. Board members include Tami Ipsen, Hidden Valley Lake; Anna Ocon, Clearlake; Peggy McCloud, Lakeport; Bob Minenna, Lower Lake; Margaret Walker-Stimmel, Kelseyville; and Dorrie Walker, Lower Lake.

In Toys for Kids' 14 years, it has served exactly 21,413 children – 791 just this year – and raised about $75,000, Onorato explained.

“We raised that money mostly out of Lake County,” said Onorato.

He said there were numerous community and corporate partners in making the toy drive and the distribution event on Dec. 19 successful.

Partner groups include Lake Transit Authority, Lake Family Resource Center, Lake County Office of Education-Healthy Family and Healthy Start programs, Hidden Valley Lake Community Services District, Wal-Mart of Clearlake and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Action Sanitation also participated in the giveaway this year.

This year PG&E gave the effort $1,000, and Onorato said Wal-Mart gave them a discount as well as a donation. He said when they show up the Clearlake store's manager and sales associates are waiting with shopping carts.

This year they were able to shop for 700 toys in close to 25 minutes, and spent about $9,100, Onorato said.

The toys were then taken to the Hidden Valley Lake Community Services District, where Mel Aust and his staff, along with local volunteers, wrapped all of the presents, according to Onorato.

He said they work with Healthy Start programs around the lake to identify the children who will be provided gifts.

The focus is on children, from infants to 12 years old, but if there is money left over, Onorato said they purchase gift cards for teenagers. This year they handed out 30 such gift cards, along with some footballs and basketballs.

On the day of the gift giveaway, Lake Transit hosts the families and children at its Lower Lake bus garage, and also transports the families there.

Seeing some of the children's faces “just makes it all worth it,” Onorato said.

Culinary students from Yuba College's Clear Lake campus were up bright and early on Saturday to bake cookies, which they served – along with hot chocolate – to the parents and children at the event, said Onorato.

Thompson spent about an hour and a half at the giveaway, said Onorato, “talking with parents and teasing kids and having a good time.”

The toys that were left over were given to the Freedom House domestic violence shelter at the Lake Family Resource Center in Kelseyville and to the Lake County Community Action Agency, Onorato said.

Onorato said they usually start fundraising in July with a golf tournament, although that didn't take place this year.

This is the only part of his district where Thompson has such a giveaway, which he's very proud of and also supports with his own donations, said Onorato.

In fact, Thompson was discussing it on the House floor, and now Congresswoman Jackie Speier is asking Thompson for information on how to start a similar effort in her district.

Thompson feels that it's a heartwarming endeavor, Onorato said. “He loves participating in this.”

“I do, too,” Onorato added. “It's really satisfying to be involved in this effort.”

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at and on Facebook at .

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