(SAN DIEGO, December 12, 2009) -- More than 12,000 toys translated into 8,375 smiles Saturday, December 12, 2009, at the 13th annual Toys for Joy event in San Diego. The 10,000 free bags of groceries, 10,000 hot dogs, 250,000 pieces of clothing, 200 haircuts, and 460 family portraits also helped.
The pouring rain did not squelch the outpouring of love from more than 2,300 volunteers from the Rock Church and a dozen other congregations who partnered with the Convoy of Hope, a national relief organization.
The event drew 8,375 hardy guests who stood in line for hours to enter Memorial Community Park and Recreation Center, a large park at 30th Street and Ocean View Boulevard in the San Diego neighborhood of Logan Heights.
Im blessed to see that people are committed to doing something to help their fellow man in the name of Christ, rain or shine," said Miles McPherson, pastor of the Rock Church and founder of Toys for Joy. "It doesnt matter the weather, our needs are there every day and Gods love is available every day. So its a blessing to see people out here -- not only here, but happy, excited and walking around in the mud with a smile on their face. Its just a blessing and I know God is happy as well.
Tommy Moseley, Outreach Pastor for the Rock Church, reported that at the end of the day, 504 people had accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, including 104 children in the Kids Zone. "The gospel was preached and in a very real way, the Body of Christ came together to meet the needs of a broken world."
STANDING HOURS IN LINE
That's what the event's 2,300 volunteers had been planning and preparing for for eight months. Saturday the volunteers, the majority of them from the Rock Church, made their way to a parking lot at Petco Park lot to catch shuttle buses to Memorial Park for a 7:30 AM orientation.
When they arrived, they discovered a packed line already wrapped around the park.
First in line was Anna, a mother of five. She had a smile on her face even though she and her family had been standing there since 2 AM.
Bundled in a Chargers knit cap, a turquoise parka, and a purple and navy blanket with pink peace signs all over it, Anna said she had learned about the event from a flier. "It said people would be here to help us and we could get presents for the children, and prayer."
A little further back in the line was a man named Anthony. "My wife woke me up early this morning because I had to walk four miles from Golden Hills to get a place in line. I was here at 6 AM."
The volunteers took up positions in a range of services. Hospitality workers were assigned to greet all the guests and answer questions. Food services started to grill10,000 hot dog lunches for all the guests and volunteers. A Kid Zone with inflatable jumps and an entertainment stage were set up. A snow zone was about the size of a tennis court, and quickly getting soggy in the rain -- but not before quite a few joyful snowball fights.
Volunteers were designated to assist the licensed hair stylists who provided 200 free hair cuts, and the photographers from Peek-a-boo Photo Booths who offered 460 free 5x7 family portraits for each family. Other volunteers helped the Rock Security Ministry and the D.U.H Recycling ministry to keep the park clean and secure.
In addition, a health services tent was staffed with professionals to provide free screenings, blood tests, immunizations, diabetic supplies, dental screenings, and vision screenings. A community services tent provided information on jobs and non-profit and government agencies that support needy families. Volunteers manned the prayer tent, and hung up an estimated 25,000 free articles of clothing for guests to browse through before taking home one of the 10,000 bags of groceries waiting at the exit.
AN EARLY CHRISTMAS
Logan Heights is a tough neighborhood southeast of downtown San Diego, where many families struggle with low income and few opportunities. For some guests, the Toys for Joy event literally would be their Christmas.
Pastor Ricky Page was helping out in the ministry section of the Kids Zone, where volunteers were raffling off a few bikes at a time. He said there were three bikes set up for this particular raffle.
"You won't believe this! It's so awesome!" he said, and told what happened next.
In the audience was Angela Ramirez, a single mother of six children, ages 5, 7, 9, 15, 16 and 18. The younger children had asked for bikes for Christmas, and she couldn't afford to buy them. So she came to Toys for Joy, hoping and praying that there might be a way to be given at least one bike.
Not only did Angela get a bike for one of her children, she got three! Amazingly, her children were holding the three raffle tickets that were pulled for those three bikes. All three children got their wish: a bike!
She expressed her thankfulness in Spanish, which her 18-year-old daughter Grace interpreted.
Shes happy because she didnt have money to buy them anything for Christmas, and they wanted bikes, said Grace. Shes really glad they made this possible. Thank you.
FACES OF JOY
Early in the soggy day a small, elderly woman was struggling to push a grocery cart through a patch of mud. A Toys for Joy volunteer came up and say, "Can we help you?"
The woman, sheathed in a trash sack with holes cut for her head and arms, smiled and said, "You already have."
That's the effect volunteers and guests like the Katinas were hoping for.
The Katinas, a band of brothers that frequently leads worship at the Rock Church, took a break from their tour to support the event. The men recently returned from their native Samoa where they were doing a relief mission to help victims of the tsunami that killed and wounded so many in September.
"It's always worth the time to help out," said lead guitarist Paul David, standing next to lead singers John Katina and Jesse Katina. They were up to their knees in children making their way to the toy room, a large tent crammed with toys and the echos of joyful children. "Jesus took the time. It's our business to be here."
Also in the toy room was another band of brothers, the Godkins. Ishmael Godkins and Isaac Godkins -- brother Israel couldn't come -- were both handing out toys like dolls and play swords and stuffed animals.
"This is a change to give back to the community to give hope to the hopeless," said Isaac, who said he was amazed to hear that some people had lined up as early as 2 AM to get in. "It's exciting to see the faces of kids light up with joy."
Across the aisle was Preston Pollard, a young professional skater originally from Alaska and now based in L.A. as a host of PushTVShow.com "I just want to do something that makes a difference. This stuff gets me excited. This [helping people] is what lasts, not skating."
One of the toy-room team leaders, Thomas Dean, was sporting a Santa beard and a Santa cap with flashing lights. He said he was part of a 25-person small group, and everyone of the group was at Toys for Joy to volunteer.
"We're here because God is here," Thomas Dean, 26, said with a big grin. "We're able to give back."
Along with Thomas was an elf named Heidi Massieh. The young woman was straight out of casting for the movie, Elf, with red and green striped clothing and a pointed green cap. She even wore large elf ears.
As she talked, a little girl waddled by, carrying a Barbie gift box taller than she was.
On the other side of the tent was a tall, dignified-looking African American man named Troy Stubblefield. Troy, the leader of the Rock Church's Four-Wheel Drive Expedition Ministry, stood for hours in the toy tent, patiently helping toddlers who had waited for this moment for hours. When asked why he had volunteered for this demanding task rather than perhaps, security, his face broken into a giant grin. "I like toys."
TALES FROM THE FRONT LINES
Not everything was fun and games at Toys for Joy. Several medical professionals gave up a day to provide free screenings and health education.
Dr. Javier Rodriguez, a pediatrician, has attended the Rock Church for four years and serves in the church's music band. "The biggest need is chronic illness. Things like blood pressure and respiratory problems. Knowledge is the most important thing being provided, and of course, prayer. We pray for them and God gives them hope."
Dr. Sonia Tucker, a general practitioner involved in the Rock Church children's ministry, helped alongside Rodriguez. An assistant, Courtney, helped with administrative duties. All three met through missions trips and have formed close friendship bonds.
Laurie Janson, a physician assistant, agreed that hypertension and diabetes is a common problem among the poor who might not know how serious the illnesses are. Melissa Fox, a medical assistant, helped Laurie by translating for Spanish speakers. Both attend the Rock Church and have worked together on other medical outreach programs, such as the Miles Ahead mission to Jamaica in 2008.
Across from the health tent was a place to get free hair cuts, and 200 people did.
At the end of the day Lizzy Covey was giving a haircut to Sarai Cruz, a volunteer from the prayer tent. She started attending the Rock Church only a few months ago, but has already answered the call to "Do something!"
"Times are hard so not a lot of people can afford things, even haircuts," Sarai said, adding that she was able to guide many folks to a church during the day.
The giant prayer tent was manned by people from every church who offered to pray for guests. Event officials said that at the end of the day, 504 people accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, including 104 children in the Kids Zone.
Josue Valdez, his wife, Alma, and their daughter Melissa, worked in the prayer tent all day. They attend Faith Tabernacle, and said they prayed for so many people they lost count. Most came in wanting prayer for jobs or health, said Josue, and end up praying for a relationship with God.
After the prayer tent, guests could exit or stop in at the clothing tent. Melanie Zamora was there with her two younger sisters. "I'm very happy because I found out this is a Christian event. People's hearts are empty and they don't know what's missing," she said.
From there guests could leave with a bag of groceries in their hands. Mayeli Ruiz was grateful. As mother to three children, the smallest just an infant, Mayeli finds it hard to make ends meet on her husband's income. She left Toys for Joy with clothes, food, and toys -- her son with a play sword, her daughter with a paint set. They even had a toy for the baby.
JESUS WAS THERE
San Diego City Councilman Ben Hueso, whose Eighth District was served by the event, thanked the organizers, giving special proclamations to both Miles McPherson and event co-organizer Joy Guevara of the Peoples Church.
The reason for the season is giving, ladies and gentlemen, and nobody gives better than Miles McPherson and the Rock Church and the Convoy of Hope. Im just so grateful to have this wonderful event in our community to reach out to the people in my community that deserve to have a happy Christmas--and to understand what the season is about.
Hueso, who represents Logan Heights, said the impact of the event on the community was immeasurable. The councilman, who grew up in the neighborhood ("I used to play football in this park, right here!") said the outreach promoted a spirit of giving and brotherhood.
Ron Showers, US Outreach National Director for Convoy of Hope, participates in 10 to 12 outreaches per year all over America, helping to empower the local church to serve their communities. He said events like Toys for Joy are a reminder of how great the need is in our country.
"I believe totally in foreign missions, but I believe in 20/20 vision. We have to have a balanced perspective of where we pour our energy and our resources. And for most Christians in America, they dont understand the great need we have in our own country. Events like this just remind us that in our own neighborhoods, in our backyards, theres people that are hopeless and broken and desperate. And to see them come out here, standing in rain just reminds me how great of an opportunity we have to serve people today.
Joy Guevara appreciated the partnership among her church, the Rock, the other churches, and Convoy of Hope.
We would love to do this every year...The dream is to get the body of Christ in San Diego to come together and impact San Diego so big -- providing so much of what God really wants to do in San Diego -- that they cannot ever neglect the fact that Christians make a difference in San Diego.
Mickey Stonier, Equipping Pastor at the Rock Church, reflected that the event mirrored the ministry of Jesus when He walked the earth.
The Rocks a Do Something church, said Mickey, and its amazing to always see people catching the vision, because if you go back 2,000 years, you get a sense of this is what Jesus was doing. There was always multitudes around him and the multitudes had need and hed be feeding them, hed be cleansing, hed be doing medical assistance (the healings he did). So everything thats happening here happened right by the Sea of Galilee 2,000 years ago, bringing joy and hope and bringing the love of God to people.
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Elise Gordillo, Diane Hoskins, Shawn McCowan, and Anita Palmer contributed to this report. All are part of Rock the Word: The Rock Church Writers Ministry (www.rocktheword.org).