4,111 people gathered early on Saturday morning, bundled in their blankets to keep themselves cozy in the cloudy, 59-degree weather. It wasn’t for Black Friday, and it wasn’t for the new iPhone. Families lined the campus of San Marcos High School to wait in line to provide a toy for their children.
In its 20th year, the Toys for Joy event, sponsored by Rock Church, has taken over four locations across San Diego. This year, Rock Church San Marcos was celebrating their third year of Toys for Joy and they were ready for their best year yet. Just one month ago, Rock Church San Marcos relocated to a building across the street from San Marcos High School and they wasted no time reaching out to the community.
This year’s event brought together volunteers and guests of all ages and walks of life. One volunteer, Maha, walked with purpose into her first Toys for Joy experience. Full of joy and eagerness to serve, Maha shared that 15 years ago her family moved here from Egypt to follow God’s calling. Now, they attend Rock Church San Marcos and she saw Toys for Joy as her opportunity to serve her community and meet new people.
So all those things that could divide us, they go away. We forget those things and it’s a reminder that when we get down to the heart of it, of who we are as people, that stuff doesn’t matter and we need to get beyond that.
First in line, waiting since 5 a.m., were Caesar, Suzy, and eight more of their family members. As little Ruth clung to her hot chocolate, they waited in anticipation for the gates to open and for the long wait to end. For this family, it was about more than the toys. “It’s getting to see them play together and have that family fun and family time. That’s what we really like,” Suzy shared.
Worth the wait
At 9AM the gates opened with a celebration and the families in line began weaving in and out of the Disneyland-like setup, but for something even better. At the end of the line, was the toy room. The mood in the room was palpable. Volunteers waited eagerly for the toy room doors to open and for the faces of the little ones to light up the campus gymnasium.
One volunteer, Ace Perkins, was getting everyone pumped up for what was about to happen. Ace works at the local Trader Joe’s and also volunteers at the San Marcos campus. Excited for his first Toys for Joy experience, he said the families are what brought him here.
“I’m so happy we have this ministry where we can be a part of this transition for the families and I can be a part of their special day,” said Ace. “I think that in this time especially, it’s us stepping into the community like this and continually doing this, is what will bring healing and bring us together.”
San Marcos Police Deputies Todd Baker and Dustin Nelson took their places in the back of the room, also eagerly awaiting what was coming. Baker and Nelson run the RESPECT Project for San Marcos at-risk youth, and Rock Church’s San Marcos campus has been welcomed with open arms. Deputy Baker is grateful for Rock Church’s presence in the community, and in his third year of attending Toys for Joy, his favorite part is seeing all the kids.
Deputy Nelson was surprised by how big the event was and was proud to see the community come together and reach out to a group of people who need the church now more than ever. Deputy Baker said he believes “the church is the one that’s going to bring the healing.”
The joy of a toy
One by one, the children filed in, the joy on their faces irreplaceable. After selecting their toys, they moved onto the field where there was food, games, haircuts, and a chance to have fun. Nine-year-old Ricardo was gushing about his new game of Sorry and 7-year-old Diane shared that this was just so much fun for her.
One mom waited in line with her friend’s children as they played basketball on the field. She shared that this year has been one of the toughest years for her and her family and she was grateful to be able to come to Toys for Joy and have a good time with the kids. Recently divorced, and without a job, this Christmas wasn’t looking quite the same.
“Normally Christmas is huge in my house, but this year it’s just not going to be,” she shared. “It’s been a humbling experience for me and my kids.”
“We are here for one purpose”
The clouds lifted and the sun started shining, representing the spirit of the morning. So many families came to Toys for Joy looking for relief, needing a day of fun with each other, needing a toy for their child or a bag of groceries to get through the week. Most importantly, they walked away feeling encouraged and surrounded by community.
At the end of a year where the city, and nation as a whole, has experienced so much division and unrest, Rock Church San Marcos Campus Pastor Jason Mayer said that Toys for Joy blurs the lines and reminds us about what really matters.
“We are here for one purpose, which is to love each other,” said Mayer. “So all those things that could divide us, they go away. We forget those things and it’s a reminder that when we get down to the heart of it, of who we are as people, that stuff doesn’t matter and we need to get beyond that.”
San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond stopped by the event, and echoed Mayer’s thoughts regarding the need for healing in the community.
“One of the great things about San Marcos is we seem to pull together to make things happen and to better the community. We don’t try to work in silos,” said Desmond. “We try to do what’s best for the overall community. So this [event] is another large factor, especially during the holidays, to see people coming together and helping each other out.”
Rock Church San Marcos is located at 1370 W. San Marcos Blvd. Ministry happens throughout the week and Sunday services take place at 8AM, 10AM, 12PM and 6PM. For more information about the San Marcos Campus, visit sdrock.com.
View the San Marcos Toys for Joy photo album below.
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