WATSONVILLE — The Santa Cruz County Toys for Tots program was born from the rubble and ashes of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.
According to Program Coordinator Delilah Valadez, residents spontaneously began bringing toys to fire stations hoping they could go to children affected by the temblor.
One question remained, however: how to get the toys to the families that needed them? Some might be too proud to ask, while others might not know to ask at all, Valadez said.
“We knew we couldn’t just put out a call to families to come get a toy,” she said.
And so Valadez and then Watsonville Fire Chief Don French assembled a contingent of service providers that worked with the families they were targeting.
That holiday season, volunteers sorted and delivered about 500 toys.
The organization has since developed into a philanthropic juggernaut, boasting a team of volunteers that receive, sort and assemble thousands of toys to low-income children who might not otherwise receive anything for Christmas.
“Now we should be doing 10,000,” Valadez said.
All of this is from a donated warehouse in a secret location in Watsonville Valadez has dubbed “the North Pole.”
Valadez was in that warehouse Monday afternoon, sorting an already giant pile of toys that came from a recent shopping spree to Toys R Us in Santa Cruz.
That traditional trip comes on the Friday before Thanksgiving and starts when Valadez hands volunteers shopping lists and donated funds, and then sends them into the store with a shopping cart.
“It’s so much fun,” she said.
While the organization is always in need of helpers, Valadez said her position – also volunteer – runs year-round.
“I’m a nut for Christmas,” she said.
Santa Cruz County Toys for Tots still needs toys to fulfill this year’s mission. The organization generally finds shortfalls in gifts for girls 10 and up, and for children 0-4. Gender-neutral toys such as board games and art supplies are particularly in demand.
To make a donation of toys or cash, or for information on becoming a volunteer, visit tinyurl.com/y88n756e.