Most don't have a twinkling Christmas tree at home. Others must share a bed each night with a sibling or parent. But every face outside the Ventura County Rescue Mission on Saturday wore a smile.
That's because the 1,700 children who showed up with their families at the mission on East 6th Street in Oxnard were given wrapped presents and candy canes.
In the 13 years that mission workers have hosted the Great Christmas Toy Giveaway, this was the largest turnout.
"It's gotten bigger every year but this is the most," said Carol Roberg, the mission's executive director. "People can barely make rent and there's no money for anything else."
Mission workers and 300 volunteers spent several weeks wrapping Barbie dolls, board games and Hot Wheels cars. Most of the gifts were donated by residents and Toys for Tots. The mission bought the rest.
One couple, Jesse and Sue Wadsworth of Ojai, spent $1,000 and several months shopping for dozens of gifts, Roberg said.
"This day is worth every minute you spend planning it," said Jeff Collister, the volunteer coordinator. "The satisfaction of helping people and making them happy is great."
Collister, like all the men handing out presents and showing kids around (even one dressed as Santa), lives at the mission, where he works on recovering from substance abuse.
As the children patiently waited in a line that stretched down the street, Boy Scouts sang carols and mimes from a local church silently enacted gospel passages by waving their arms.
Before they could receive gifts, the families had to show proof that they were collecting unemployment insurance or receiving another form of public assistance.
As several youngsters crouched against a brick wall--some clutching presents bigger than themselves--11-year-old Bianca Silva hugged her wrapped box and wondered aloud what was inside.
"I can open it on Christmas," the smiling girl announced.
For some, that holiday will be spent on the street, in a motel room or in a small apartment with several other families.
"We're trying to reach these people with a little bit of hope," Roberg said.