For the past 16 years the ILWU, along with organizations in the local area, have put together a toy drive to benefit children that might have otherwise gone without this holiday season. The ILWU Credit Union branches in San Pedro and Wilmington were drop off points for toy donations. We felt honored and privileged to take member’s donations and provide gift cards as a way to give back to our community this year and help the ILWU Children’s Toy Drive project.
It all started with the idea that Michael Ponce and Lisa Tonson, along with a committee of dedicated Longshoremen, had to benefit people at Christmas time. Now, with the help of Katy Witkowski, the Committee Secretary and Treasurer, and a team of giving volunteers, Lisa is able to organize and coordinate an event that helps approximately 3000 kids. Every year Local 13 has a budget that they use to get as many Christmas items as possible for needy boys and girls. Locals 13, 63, 94, among others, came together to make sure the kids have a great space and a huge variety of toys to choose from. Local 26 and 65 helped by providing the security along with LAPD Harbor Patrol providing traffic management support so everyone could park and get to the Party safely. They did a great job.
Lisa mentioned that every year the organizing committee finds a chair for Santa. This year was no different and it came with a great story. Lisa said, “Santa Claus needs a chair!” and she went out the Saturday before the Toy Drive party to find one. Lisa was driving through the neighborhood when she spotted the perfect thing for Santa to sit on. And, with what luck, it didn’t cost a single cent. Lisa found it on a man’s front porch with a sign that said “FREE”. She knew that it would be the perfect chair for Santa and later returned to the man’s porch with a trailer to haul it off. The gentleman was touched by what Lisa was doing and helped her get it loaded. The throw-away freebie was covered with an elegant crushed red velvet throw and transformed into a place for Santa to hear kids wishes.
Another great aspect of the Toy Drive is that no donated item went to waste. Everything is given away to kids that need something special this time of year. Roman Gonzalez commented that any donations left over after the party are given to fire departments and other organizations to keep helping.
All the presents were organized and placed in rows and then buses started arriving with children. The smiles and joy could be felt everywhere around the Hall. Next, the kids with their families began streaming in and ILWU escorts guided everyone through the lines. As soon as a gift was picked out, the people were guided to where volunteers had snacks set up. Everyone got to enjoy cookies, drinks and cake. As an added bit of fun, a face painting area was set up where the kids were entertained with body art. Santa even made a visit and families were able to get pictures with St. Nick.
Please take a look at the Local 13 Bulletin that has a full list of organizations that benefitted from the ILWU Christmas Toy Drive. We want to thank all the Locals that donated, volunteered and came out to help make a child a little happier this holiday season. This is definitely the most wonderful time of the year!