Toys for Joy | Featured Story
Written by Alexa Thomas
Jessica Franks and her three little ones arrived at the Rock Church Toys for Joy Special Needs registration table eager to jump into all the fun. Mason, 7 years old and diagnosed with autism and epilepsy; Matthew, 9 years old and diagnosed with autism; and her littlest, Lily, is 5 years old and diagnosed with epilepsy as well. “Not many places accommodate families who have special needs, so to have a place to bring my entire family and know they are welcome is truly a blessing,” Jessica said with gratitude in her voice and tears welling in her eyes.
Toys for Joy 2017, Rock Church’s 21st annual Christmas community event, proved to persevere this season with impressive impact. This year the Rock Church gave away 17,771 toys, mobilized 4,937 volunteers across all three locations, welcomed 18,348 community members in attendance, gave manicures to 669 individuals, gave away 619 free fresh hair cuts, distributed 9,500 bags of groceries along with 263, 550 articles of clothing, and celebrated the 2,770 individuals who responded to the gospel. Among the impressive impact were the 1,177 special needs families this event accommodated.
I spent the majority of the morning touring the Toys for Joy Lincoln High School location with Jessica and her children. Here is a brief look into our conversation:
Q: How did you hear about the event?
Jessica: I came across an ad for the event randomly a few years ago. Maybe through the news, I’m not sure. I didn’t know they had a special needs room until we showed up – it was such a relieving surprise. I realized then how unique this event is and wanted to bring my family back again.”
Q: How many years have you been coming to Toys for Joy?
Jessica: Once before in 2013. I couldn’t find any information about it in the following years – but I had loved the experience so much back in 2013 that I decided I would seek out the information this year and make sure to bring my kids. I told them we were going to have to wake up early for this, which they hate doing – but they were all so excited and ready to go this morning. We all just really love it.”
Q: What does this event mean for you and your family financially and emotionally this Christmas season?
Jessica: It means a lot. It’s hard to provide for the kids, especially during the holidays. Christmas comes once a year and sometimes you don’t feel like you’re good enough because you can't give them everything you wish you could. To be able to take them here and allow them to experience the fun is priceless. It relieves a lot of the burden. We’re all just very grateful to Rock Church and you guys for making this happen.”
The Toys for Joy Special Needs area is strategically and thoughtfully put together by the Rock Church special needs ministry, Miracle 139. Families who have unique needs are placed with a buddy for the day, which will then guide them through the entire experience. They are offered a special waiting room filled with coloring stations, free food for lunch, books to read, toys to play with, and ample seating for the tired parents to take a brief rest. Escorted to the front of every line, they pick out their toy, fill their bags with all the clothing they might need for the season, and then to a new room called the ‘Sensory Room’.
The sensory room was a new addition for the Special Needs area at Lincoln High School this year – and it proved to be a game changer. After the hustle and chaos of the toy room and touring the event, families with special needs are offered the option of retreating to the sensory room. This room promotes peace the moment you enter with dim lighting, low volume, and volunteers who care for each family member with gentleness and attention. The floor is open with soft mat-toys, a mini trampoline, and felt trees hung on the wall with Velcro ornaments for rearranging. They have face painting stations and tables filled with sensory objects uniquely designed for kids diagnosed with a wide range a special needs or disabilities. Every detail of the room is thoughtfully designed to engage the child intentionally and offer the parents of a few stress-free moments.
Rock Church offers year round support to families with special needs through their Miracle 139 ministry. For more information, please visit https://www.sdrock.com/ministries/miracle139/about/.
Toys for Joy | El Cajon Valley High
Written by Lexis Corrao
9AM Saturday morning at El Cajon Valley High School, families and volunteers from all walks of life shared an unforgettable experience.
“This is the best day ever. I got a boogie board!” Shouted 7 year old Emanuel as his eyes lit up with joy.
Thanks to the overflowing amount of volunteers and many donations, children just like Emanuel were blessed this year. As families crowded in, the auditorium was filled with giggles, smiles, and tears of gratitude and joy. Esther Lee, a Rock Church volunteer, has been serving at Toys for Joy for three years now. When asked what her favorite part of the day was she replied, “ I love seeing the children smile when they get something they truly love.” She sees this event as an opportunity to serve her community and bless families that appreciate every moment at the event.
From the toy room, families venture to the football field for face paintings, complimentary haircuts, and manicures. The fun seems to never end as they discover jump houses, DJ’s, free lunches, more giveaways, and fun games for the whole family. A military family of five was so thankful to have been invited by their friends. One of the family members couldn’t help but express, “We feel so blessed to be here. This event is so special to us, and we truly cherish all that is going on here today. We have a family here.” As the day draws to an end another grand surprise is in the making…
As families began to leave, East County Rock Kids Leader, Christina Hogue, approached some of the El Cajon Police Officers who had offered their time to be at the event. There were bikes left over from the event and they needed to give them away. Christina rallied the Police Officers and Rock Kids volunteers together and distributed tickets to a few unsuspecting families that remained. Twins Savannah and Samaya, age nine, were two of the many to receive bikes. Jumping with excitement they couldn’t wait to ride their brand new princess bikes. Officer Corrao gifted a struggling family of four with two bikes as well. Tim, a husband and father of two children, Tim Jr. age 10 and Lily age 9, celebrated five days being sober on Saturday. Tim and his family were evicted from their home recently, but were able to find refuge at East County Transitional Living Center. Thanks to members of the team, Tim’s wife is now working as a seasonal employee at Target, and they now have a safe place to spend Christmas time together as a family. The family felt so welcomed, taken care of, and loved by Rock Church. Their entire family will cherish this special day forever.
El Cajon Police Chief Jeff Davis was able to reflect on the event and felt as though out of the three years he has attended, this was the best year yet. Chief Davis felt that out of all the events hosted throughout the city, Toys for Joy has had the most impact with the greatest attendance. Chief Davis loves seeing the children smile as he gave them toys, and the diversity of cultures gathered as one community.
Rock Church’s annual Toys for Joy event offers much more then just a toy for children who may otherwise not receive one. It offers fellowship, renewed faith, and unforgettable memories. As the gates opened families cheered with joy, volunteers shared high fives and smiles, and the presence of God was evident all around. East County Associate Pastor Mike Humphrey took a moment to reflect on what it is like to witness people responded to the gospel all day at this event, “Although we are giving these families gifts that are physical, we are giving them gifts that are spiritual and eternal.”
The Toys for Joy event gathers people of all backgrounds and provides a much-needed reminder that we are all here to love one another. We leave behind what divides us and instead become a family while experiencing the gift of giving -- now isn’t that a joyous feeling?
Toys for Joy | Lincoln High
Written by Michael Blatnica
On a sunny but chilly Saturday morning, everything was in place for this year’s annual Toys For Joy event at Lincoln High School. The toy room was fully stocked, plenty of cloths and groceries on hand; scissors, clippers and combs set in place; paint and glitter on tables; gospel and family stage area ready to deliver messages of hope, inspiration, and an invitation to come home. Oh, and we must not forget the many hundreds of volunteers serving and the thousands of families that would be welcomed on this very special day.
The anticipation could be seen through every child’s smiling face. The Toys for Joy event offers a place for families to come, not only for a gift, but also for a sense of peace, safety, belonging and community. The lives of many are changed through a message of hope, joy, truth, and purpose. The toys are just a bonus.
This is why we continue to do the event year after year: offering Gods free gift to all is what Christmas is all about.
At the Lincoln High location alone, Rock Church served 9,447 guests and gifted 6,447 toys, 11,905 lunches, 341 haircuts, 330 manicures, 2,276 books, 5,000 grocery bags and 263,550 articles of clothing throughout the entire day. In addition, 3,148 people received prayer, 1,907 responded to the gospel message, and 2,458 team members volunteered over the course of Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.
Family activities this year included haircuts, nails, balloons, face painting, story tent, arts and crafts, obstacle course, special needs family room and tour buddies.
Senior Pastor, Miles McPherson said, “This is our 21st year of doing Toys For Joy and we’re very excited that it has gotten bigger every year and that we get to serve more and more people from all around the county. It just doesn’t get any better than this.”
“People coming together as a community and the fact that we’re going to have 10,000 people here just at this location alone I think speaks volumes of what the Rock Church means to this city. ” said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer.”
San Diego Chief of Police, Shelly Zimmerman, who has attended many of the events in years past, had this to say, “Thank you Rock Church and to the army of volunteers that are here and have brought the very best of San Diego together to make sure that everyone has a wonderful Christmas. On behalf of the San Diego Police Department, we are just thrilled to be a part of this event every single year.”
Brian Fennessy, Fire Chief – City of San Diego, told me that this is his third year attending and that he has been the fire chief for almost as long.
“I’ve had the privilege of being here and, as I have shared with many, this event is one of my favorites. Just seeing the kids faces and handing out toys, it’s overwhelming for the kids as their eyes light up and they don’t know what to pick. Just to see the smiles, I wouldn’t want to miss it for anything.”
Chief Fennessy went on to say, “The work that the Rock Church does with this event – genuinely bringing joy to peoples lives -- you can see that here. We don’t always get to see people at their best, but this is cool. I wish it were everyday.“
A special thanks to Andre Crenshaw Jr. and Cory Detwiler for contributing their gifts and talents to this story.
Toys for Joy | Vista
The Toys for Joy Vista area was new for Rock Church this year. In years past, we held the event in San Marcos. The Lilac fire prompted Vista's emergency evacuation which caused great concern for the team. With just hours to change plans, they decided to postpone the event to the following weekend. Vista high school was unable to host Toys for Joy with the last-minute changes -- plan B it is! With just days to plan and organize the entire event at a new locaiton, Guajome Academy jumped in and offered their facility without hesitation! A mircale in the making. The San Marcos campus leaders and team members rallied to move the event to this new location in just 5 days. Bringing together a handful of leaders from our other Toys for Joy sites, the Guajome Toys for Joy was a complete success! We could not have been happier with the effort and love that poured out from all who offered their time and resources.
Here is one story from the day:
Gilbert, a father of three who had recently lost his wife 10 months ago, brought his three children all under the age of 7 to Toys for Joy Guajome Park Academy. They heard about the event from school and Gilbert had revealed that he had been so depressed after losing his wife that he lost his job and they were very close to being homeless. He didn’t think his children would have a Christmas this year. When they left they were blown away by the gifts and the hospitality of all the volunteers! His family spent the day laughing and playing in the family activity area. Gilbert explained that they were very grateful for the happy experience for his family in this hard time.
We are so overjoyed by the impact of this year's annual Toys for Joy event -- depsite all obstacles, we witnessed God inspire hearts, provide more than enough resource for every family that showed up, and bring people together in a postitive way.
Until next year!