Sunshine prevailed for over 3,800 residents of East County who waited in line for the chance to take part in Rock Church East County’s first Toys for Joy event on Saturday, December 13 at El Cajon Valley High School. The bright sunshine outside, however, could not match the intensity of the smiles inside the Toy Room as families entered the doors. Children walking into the room were in awe of the number and variety of toys that were stacked four to five rows high in some areas of the gym. Over 5,200 toys were collected for the East County event.
Wanda Drummond brought her 22-month old son, Jhiell, to the event. Jhiell picked a soft, cuddly baby doll, and a small football. Drummond, an El Cajon resident, found out about the event through a flyer left on her door. “This is exciting. It’s free, so I figured why not come out to the event.”
Drummond volunteers often for the YMCA and the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations. She understands the importance of being a volunteer herself. “You don’t always know what your neighbors are going through,” said Drummond. “Some of them can’t afford much. That’s why a free event such as this is so important.”
This was volunteer Liz Mexia’s first year as a team leader in the Toy Room and fourth year volunteering for Toys for Joy. She dressed as an elf in a pajama outfit she found at a local store, complete with elf slippers and a tutu made by a friend. Additional touches such as these helped to add something special to the event.
“I love to dress up,” said Mexia. “Children liked seeing me dressed up as an elf. I got a lot of requests to have my picture taken with the kids.” The mother of two children said, “I guess I’m just a kid at heart.”
Over 1,323 volunteers at the event manned the Toy Room, served up over 6,000 hot dogs, chips and drinks, and gave away more than 4,600 bags of groceries.
While the main event was the Toy Room, tucked off in another area was a smaller version of the Toy Room–the Special Needs Room. Kristen Munoz was one of those fortunate enough to be a guest in this area.
Kristen brought her three children to the event, and what they found in the Special Needs Room was Toys for Joy wrapped in an extra layer of love.
Kristen’s youngest child, Carlos, has special needs. He is 100 percent blind and has a rare brain disorder called lissencephaly. The overall incidence of lissencephaly is estimated to be one in 85,000 individuals. Children with lissencephaly may have difficulty swallowing, failure to thrive, muscle spasms, seizures, and severe problems related to movement or muscle activity associated with mental processes. In July, Carlos had as many as 100 seizures per day. While he is sometimes able to eat small amounts of food, he is primarily fed through a feeding tube.
Six months into her pregnancy, after a routine ultrasound, Kristen found out Carlos would have severe disabilities. According to the doctor, Carlos might not even survive birth, and if he did, would face severe disabilities and would likely not live long. She was even given the option of “taking care of the pregnancy.” She didn’t think twice. "How could I even think of something like that when I could feel my baby kicking inside me?” She gave birth to Carlos on December 30, 2013. He will soon be a year old, beating the odds of the doctor’s initial assessment.
"Carlos is my miracle baby. He is such a blessing to me and to everyone who meets him,” said Munoz.
The Special Needs Room is designed specifically to wrap the family in a cocoon of special care, according to Tyler Norsworthy, the Special Needs Room Team Leader. Every family who entered was assigned a “buddy.” The buddy escorted the family to the toy table to pick their special toy. Afterwards, the children were given the chance to do arts and crafts and play games. The buddy ran all the errands, bringing bags of groceries as well as lunch to the family. At the end, the buddy helped the family carry packages to their vehicle.
Kristen, who has been attending Rock Church East County for several months, learned about the event from a friend. Due to Carlos’ disabilities, she was immediately escorted to the Special Needs Room and paired with a buddy.
The Munoz family began attending Rock Church East County because of the special needs program. She is astounded by the love and support coming from the church community. "Every time I walk through church, someone stops to pray over the baby, to pray with me. It's moments like that when you know you are in the right spot.”
East County pastor Ricky Page has said he wants to “create a place that is centered on family.” The success of the El Cajon campus’ first Toys for Joy event shows that Rock Church East County is on the right track.
»» To read recaps from the other Toys for Joy locations, click here!