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Community News: East

EAST LOS ANGELES : Donations Sought for Toy Giveaway

November 20, 1994|MARY ANNE PEREZ

Councilman Richard Alatorre has kicked off the Feliz Navidad toy giveaway project in an effort to ensure that children in the housing projects in his district will receive toys this Christmas.

The annual event, which Alatorre started in 1987, converts recreation centers at the six housing projects into festive Christmas celebrations with snow, magicians, music, clowns and a visit from Santa Claus.

More than 16,000 families took part in last year's festivities, organized by volunteers and Alatorre's staff. Alatorre hopes to raise $125,000 this year for the toys, books, games and entertainment, as well as soliciting donations of toys and other items for the events.

"We have what we like to call a 'winter wonderland,' " said attorney Tony Zamora, chairman of the board of directors of the nonprofit Feliz Navidad organization.

"We have Santa, we have entertainment, we have, typically, a lot of props like snow and tin soldiers. It's really almost like a Disneyland ride. The kids come in and you can see their faces light up when they're there. Santa's elves are handing out toys and they get to talk to Santa."

The trick is to match the children, from toddlers to 13-year-olds, with appropriate toys for their ages. Volunteers have been registering children in the housing projects to make sure the children receive the right kind of toy on the day of the event.

The toy giveaways are held on consecutive weekends in December at the various housing developments. Workers get there as early as 5 a.m. to decorate, bring in toys and coordinate the event.

"I think the kids and the parents feel very special on that day and that's the point," Zamora said.

Alatorre started the events after a Christmas toy giveaway effort in 1986 came up short, with lines of children waiting for presents.

The next year, he established Feliz Navidad and set out to sponsor a Christmas celebration at one housing project each year, starting with Ramona Gardens.

But residents at other projects soon heard about his program and asked to be next on his list. Alatorre responded by expanding the program to every project in his district.

To donate toys or for information, call (213) 485-3335.

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