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Gifted Children


SANTA ANA — The door wouldn't open for another 45 minutes, but the line of children and parents stretched halfway down the block. One young girl said she had waited since 7 a.m., more than two hours.

"We want to get some surprises," she explained shyly.

So they stood with restless anticipation Saturday outside the Corbin Community Center, site of the annual Red Cross Holiday Project that this year distributed presents collected from across Orange County to 2,400 children from low-income families.

And although Christmas was still nine days away, many children seemed to think it awaited them on this sunny morning--just behind the closed green door at the front of the line.

A chorus of girls said they hoped to find Barbie dolls behind that door. Cindy Salgado, 5, of Santa Ana, longed for a small bicycle. Her brother, Johnny, 8, hoped for a Nintendo set, or a bicycle, or maybe a bicycle helmet.

He also wanted to see Santa--and especially his elves.

"On one program, I see elves, and they make magic," he said.

And still they waited in the warm sunlight, some mothers nursing infants, some children waving their red-paper invitations like fans.

In time, the door opened and the magic began.

Children filed inside to find a room crammed full of toys, red-and-white balloons and the festive sound of Christmas carols. After visiting with Santa Claus, the children were led to a long table where they were each handed a toy.

Their faces glowing, grasping their gifts tight to their chests, they were then escorted to a courtyard for face painting, cookie decorating and other activities.

This was the seventh Holiday Project for the Orange County chapter of the American Red Cross, and it was months in the making.

More than 5,000 toys were collected for the giveaway through 24 toy drives conducted by companies and high schools.

Organizers sent notices to schools in Santa Ana, asking them to identify 10 of their neediest families to be invited to the event, said Red Cross official Penny Hughes. Another 150 families were contacted through the Corbin Community Center.

And once again this year, hundreds of families heard about the giveaway by word-of-mouth and arrived without invitations. They were asked to form a second line to wait about three hours, until many of the invited guests had passed through the door.

Teenage volunteers from high schools around the county helped guide children through the maze of Santa visits and gift-giving.

"You see a lot of happy faces. You just want the warmness of the holiday to last," said Robert Miyashiro, 16, a Garden Grove High School junior who helped out.

"I think it's really great. We can't help everyone, but at least we can help a portion of them," said Zie Zie Lim, 17, of El Dorado High School, where students gathered 45 toys by holding a holiday party.

One of the most popular events was the face-painting, where volunteers festooned young faces with stars, holly leaves and green-and-red wreaths. Children could also decorate holiday cards or decorate cookies baked by South County Girl Scouts.

Guests were also introduced to Buddy Blood Drop, the local Red Cross chapter's mascot--a volunteer enveloped in a ballooning red-plush costume, a Santa's hat perched on top.

But the main event, of course, was the gift-giving.

Kristine Cincotta, 4 1/2, of Dana Point, wearing a print dress and big pink bow, was perhaps the youngest volunteer working at the gift table.

"I'm Santa's elf," she explained, in between handing out Barbie dolls.

Some children did not get the items on their wish lists. But Johnny Salgado proudly displayed a new football, and his little sister got a doll dish set.

Soria Soto, 10, who wore a painted gold star on her left cheek, got a Barbie doll too.

To her, Saturday seemed just like Christmas.

"All the family together," she said. "And getting presents."

In a Real-Life Toy Story, Christmas Is Brightened for Kids of Low-Income Families

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