Whether it was their festive costumes or the smile on their faces, excitement filled the air as guests were greeted by the volunteers at Toys for Joy Southwest High School campus. In its inaugural year, 2023 attendees enjoyed many of the same familiarities at the other Toys for Joy sites but closer to home. As plans to expand to another site unfolded throughout this past year, the planning team continued to hear stories about how attendees would travel hours round trip on bus to the Lincoln site and sometimes couldn’t bring back a bike they won because of space. But that all changed December 12, as Toys for Joy came closer to their neighborhood.
One attendee, Daniel Ramos was excited as he, his children and his mother waited in line to attend this event. His daughter brought home a flier she received at Emory School, where she attends. "I thank Rock Church for doing this event in the South Bay area because I always hear about these events happening in Downtown San Diego or in Central San Diego. So, I'm happy that the Rock Church came here today because we live across the street and just walked here. I'm so happy that the kids now have a Christmas gift.”
Colorful floral skirts twirled on the Family Stage as the Southwest High School Dance Team performed for the hundreds of onlookers. Their Director, a Rock volunteer was glad that his team could participate at the event and give back to their school and community. Hometown artist, Frankie J even made a guest appearance. Between performances, guests enjoyed games, activities and crafts in the school courtyard.
Not only did the attendees enjoy the event being closer to them, for many of the volunteers, they were eager to serve the community that they call their home. They have served faithfully at the Lincoln site over the years, but enjoyed being able to make an impact on the students and families down the street from where they live.
One volunteer, Dontae McFarland shared, "Last year I performed on the Family Stage at Lincoln High School. (This year) I chose to serve at Southwest High School. I live just a few blocks away on Cornardo and 13th street. I volunteer at the Boys and Girls club with the youth, it's such a dark community out here and to see these kids who usually are out there on the basketball courts receiving hope, joy and gifts it's amazing it's an honor!"
Dontae is looking forward to next year and impacting the community even more. "This being the first year, all the volunteers are doing such an amazing job. There's a lot of engagement here out in the Family Zone that I have witnessed from the stage."
As the day winded down at the Southwest site, the excitement continued to build. Guests were talking about the groceries and toys they received. More importantly, many were reflecting about the message of hope and a relationship with Jesus Christ they heard, some for the first time. Volunteers exchanged stories of encouragement. And all were already talking about how they could not wait for next year’s Toys for Joy event!
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