A few days before Christmas last year, a unique toy store opened for a few hours in downtown Davis.
There were soccer balls and Lego sets, dolls and games and gift cards, all brand-new and waiting to brighten a child’s holiday. Parents came in and browsed, took their time finding just the right gift for each of their children, then paid, maybe stopped to wrap the gifts, and went on their way.
Rafael Ponce was there, picking out toys for his three children, then carefully wrapping each of them.
“My kids will be very happy,” he said.
So, too, would Stacy Padilla’s children.
The hardest part, she said, was choosing among the many items she knew her children would love.
But just knowing that come Christmas morning, they would be happy no matter what, Padilla said, “is such a blessing.”
The simple truth, even in affluent Davis, is that many parents cannot afford to give their children the kind of Christmas they would like to.
“Sometimes we can’t afford to buy them stuff at a regular store,” Ponce noted.
But happily for Ponce, Padilla and many other parents last year, this was no regular store.
In fact, all of the thousands of dollars worth of toys and gifts had been donated by local businesses, churches, service organizations and individuals — 1,100 brand-new items in all for the first-ever Davis Community Gift Project.
There were teething toys for babies, pull toys for toddlers, gift cards for teens and everything in between.
And unlike more typical holiday toy drives — where donations are sorted by age and gender and wrapped up ahead of time — the Davis Community Gift Project made the parents of the recipients partners in the process.
Parents were invited to come choose the gifts themselves, asked to pay a nominal price for each gift — say, 25 cents for a $10 toy — with all money raised going toward a free Christmas morning breakfast at Davis Community Church.
Elisa Stone, who has organized holiday toy drives for the church for many years, noted that sometimes just handing parents gifts for their children can be a little embarrassing, even demeaning for the recipients.
But giving them the opportunity to select and wrap their children’s gifts and requesting a nominal donation for each one, Stone said, honors their roles as parents and providers.
It also gives them a chance to pay it forward, by funding a community breakfast for all, she said.
When Stone made the decision last year to change the typical holiday toy drive into something quite different, she wasn’t sure how it would turn out. How many families would show up, she wondered. Would she have enough gifts to go around? And would there be enough volunteers to make it all happen?
She needn’t have worried.
“It always works out,” she said this week. “When you do good things, good things happen.”
And so, the Davis Community Gift Project returns this year.
Once again, Stone is working with the Davis Bridge Educational Foundation, which serves low-income families at several Davis schools, as well as school counselors, to identify and invite low-income families to the store.
The project also will provide gifts for the children at Progress Ranch — a home for emotionally troubled boys — as well as Yolo County foster children.
“I think we’ll have even more families this year,” said Stone, so she is hoping for more donations as well.
Already, things are off to a good start. The annual El Macero Country Club fashion show being held on Friday has designated the gift project as a beneficiary of the show’s proceeds, and Davis Rotary Club member Randy Alston is raffling off a magnum of wine to raise additional funds.
Everyone is invited to sign up to donate a gift at www.wejoinin.com/sheets/cvyca.
Stone learned last year that some toys were in higher demand than others, so this year’s sign-up sheet is more specific than last year’s, which simply listed donations by age and gender.
“Last year Barbies were gone in 10 seconds,” she explained, “so I’m asking for more of them.”
Other hot items were Hot Wheels cars, Nerf toys and anything superhero, while for teens, gift cards for movies, pizza and frozen yogurt were popular.
Once again, the store will be located at Davis Community Church and will feature not just shopping for parents, but also a craft room where children can make gifts for their parents while their parents shop for them. Stone said volunteers are needed to staff both the store and the craft room and a sign-up sheet is available for that as well, at www.signupgenius.com/go/20F0F4EA4AB29AA8-help.
The store will be open on Saturday, Dec. 22, with invited families staggered by school throughout the day. Last year, Stone said, some South Davis families were unable to participate because they lacked transportation to the church. So this year, the Bridge program at Montgomery Elementary School will organize car-pools to ensure that every family who wants to participate can.
Once again, proceeds from the store will fund a community pancake breakfast at the church on Christmas morning. Last year, Stone said, many of the families that shopped at the store returned on Christmas to enjoy the breakfast they helped pay for.
“Many of them hung out at the store and wrapped their presents and chatted with our volunteers and I think that’s why a lot of them came back to the breakfast,” she said. “I love that it breaks down some barriers that we can have in our town.”
Stone doesn’t plan to limit the invitations that go out to local families and urges community members who know of families in need to contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org so she can make sure those families receive an invitation to the store.
In addition to toys and gift cards, donations of wrapping paper are also welcome. All donations may be dropped off at the Davis Community Church office, 412 C St., between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. The deadline to donate is Thursday, Dec. 22.
For more information, contact Stone at email@example.com
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy