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'Miracle' unites kids, toys

Holiday giveaway puts donated gifts into the hands of thousands of children, some of whom camped out overnight.

December 16, 2007|Tony Barboza | Times Staff Writer

Ten thousand toys were stacked inside the Hollenbeck Youth Center gym like piles of treasure.

Forming a line several blocks long outside the Boyle Heights youth center, thousands of children waited for hours Saturday to take home toys donated for the 26th annual Miracle on First Street, a holiday giveaway for inner-city children.

First in line were brother and sister Efrain and Elisa Gonzalez, 7 and 9, respectively, who camped out overnight with their mother, holding their spot for 17 hours to ensure they had first pick. Wrapped in blankets and winter hats, they periodically chirped, "When are the toys coming?" said their mother, Claudia Gonzalez.

"We don't have a lot of money, so this helps a lot," Gonzalez said before the wait was finally over. At 11 a.m., the people in line shuffled toward a tent where Santa Clauses and Laker Girls began doling out the gifts.

Elisa poked around a mountain of colorful boxes, choosing a miniature pink bus, which she said she will use as transportation for her Barbie dolls.

"I hope they all fit," she said with a toothy grin.

Big 5 Sporting Goods and Spectrum Athletic Centers donated many of the toys, including basketballs, Hula Hoops and electronic toy guitars. Others came from donations placed in barrels situated around the city.

Four blocks of 1st Street were closed off for an all-day street festival, with an arts and crafts area and stage with singers and dancers. A parade of cars rolled through the neighborhood, with yet another Santa waving from a pimped-out Hummer, garnering cheers and impromptu recitations of the restless toy seekers' wish lists.

At times, groups of children chanted their own twist on a familiar labor rallying cry: "What do we want? Toys! When do we want them? Now!"

Ashley Morris, 6, came away with a much-sought-after pink tricycle. Her brother Christian, 8, got exactly what he wanted: a Monopoly board game to replace one that was missing so many pieces he couldn't play it with his family anymore.

Their father, Bernard Morris, a 39-year-old South Gate metal worker, brought six of his seven children to the toy giveaway for the first time this year.

"This is one of the first years that money has been tight for us," he said, "so if we didn't have this, we wouldn't have much to put under the Christmas tree."

Saturday also marked the opening of a multimedia lab in a room at the youth center that used to house a boxing ring.

The lab's neatly arranged cubicles with 10 computers, eight laptops, two plasma television sets, two digital camcorders, professional lighting and a green screen will be used to teach children from L.A.'s Eastside about filmmaking.

An instructor from Roosevelt High School will offer courses, and the lab will be open to the public for Internet access seven days a week, said Deane Leavenworth, vice president of external affairs for Time Warner Cable, which donated and installed the equipment.

"This room becomes a bridge across the digital divide into the 21st century," he said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a longtime supporter of the youth center, attended the ribbon-cutting, trading gibes with the event's emcees, actors Tom Arnold and Dax Shepard.

Amber Jones, 12, an aspiring fashion designer, hopes to take computer courses at the new lab. She usually goes to a crowded public library in her East Los Angeles neighborhood to use the Internet because she has no connection at home, she said as she stood in the toy line with her mother, Kathleen Guerra.

Amber had hoped for a bike to replace the one that was stolen from her months ago.

And although she didn't get exactly what she wanted, by late afternoon, her mother said, she already had opened the pop culture trivia board game and scented soap she received.

"She just couldn't wait," Guerra said.

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tony.barboza@latimes.com

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