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A Spirit of Giving

Holidays: Crime victims, senior citizens and needy children are among those receiving special attention.


From downtown Los Angeles to near the Memorial Coliseum, Christmas came early Tuesday for Alejandro Monje, Briana August, Clara Mitchell and Bessie Rush-Johnson.

Monje, a gunshot victim from San Fernando, received a raft of toys, gift certificates and an airplane ticket. August, a 3-year-old preschooler, was clutching the new doll she just got from Santa Claus. Mitchell, a 94-year-old retired supervisor of ushers at the Music Center, relished a holiday meal with other senior citizens while a small band played "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and other tunes.

Rush-Johnson was tired, but that didn't concern her.

"I'm dragging right now, but I really love doing this," she said late in the day after organizing the loading of nearly $5,000 worth of toys collected by workers of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for distribution to the needy in skid row. "I'll get a new burst of energy and I'll start all over again."

In the holiday spirit of giving, there was a spate of events Tuesday, organized by public agencies, to spread some cheer, especially for those who have been victimized by criminals.

At the district attorney's office, Monje and other crime victims received gifts that were part of the 16th annual holiday drive among district attorney's employees with the help of sponsors such as Ralphs markets.

Monje, 26, was driving home in June when a man with whom he had been arguing pulled alongside his car and shot at him. One of the bullets hit Monje, causing him to lose the use of his legs.

In a wheelchair, he softly gave thanks to the district attorney's workers, who showered his family with gifts.

"My family got gifts--that's good," he said.

Nearby, 9-year-old Mayra Venegas, who was shot in the stomach while sitting in her home in Pacoima, said little when she was greeted by Steve Cooley, the new district attorney.

Later, the girl said she was grateful for the presents, but wanted to make sure a reporter wrote down what she wanted to say: "I want to be a teacher."

Overall, Cooley said, the volunteer efforts of district attorney's employees would benefit about 200 families of crime victims in Los Angeles County.

"This is a tribute to the spirit of giving during the holiday season," Cooley said of the volunteer effort.

Meanwhile, there was a free flow of music and some chaos at a holiday event staged by the Los Angeles city attorney's office at the Exposition Inter-Generational Community Center near the Coliseum.

Outside, more than 200 preschoolers, many of them yelling greetings to Santa, ate hamburgers and drank sodas outside while more than 100 senior citizens were serenaded inside the center.

"It'll be crazy out here," preschool teacher Yolanda Leon said while surveying the sea of youngsters watching a Douglas Seymore Marionettes show or sharing a laugh with Santa.

Leon's 3-year-old niece, Briana August, was happy with her new doll. When other preschoolers made a move toward her gift, Briana let out a holler of warning.

After all, the others would eventually get gifts too.

Inside, City Atty. James K. Hahn greeted the senior citizens, telling them this was a time to give.

"Our office has been doing this for 15 years, and [city attorney workers] like to do this," Hahn said. "It's something special at this time of the year. It's a time to think about other people."

Nearby, Mitchell, the retired Music Center usher supervisor, was enjoying the festive atmosphere, preferring to talk about her son and daughter--one a teacher and the other a pianist.

"I'm blessed," she said.

At the other end of the center's meeting room, 66-year-old Katherine Prudeaux was showing off what she had learned in a conversational Spanish class. "Uno, dos, tres," she began for an observer, ". . . but I'm still learning."

There were other Christmas events Tuesday, including a giveaway of toys at the Union Rescue Mission in skid row, the collection of 2,000 toys by employees of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a holiday party in Pomona for 200 children and their parents by the county Department of Children and Family Services and a gathering for 200 child cancer survivors at UCLA.

At the Hollenbeck Youth Center in Boyle Heights, volunteers handed out food packages to about 200 families Tuesday. But that won't rival the center's annual toy giveaway on Saturday.

Already, workers noted, parents have begun lining up on the sidewalk on 1st Street to be among the first to receive the gifts.

And at the headquarters building for the MTA, workers collected nearly $5,000 worth of toys.

The work of loading the toys for shipment to the Fred Jordan Mission for distribution was temporarily halted in the afternoon when workers, acting on a tip, began looking through the pile of gifts for a valuable PlayStation 2 video game that reportedly was in the stack.

They couldn't find it, however.

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