Santa Clarita’s The Gentle Barn and the Los Angeles Police Department’s Southeast Division joined together Tuesday for their sixth annual toy drive to bring holiday joy to at-risk youth.
The organizations donated toys and gifts to more than 1,500 children at the Community Police Station, located at 145 W 108th St. in Los Angeles. They also offered face painting and set up bounce houses for children to play on throughout the afternoon.
Many of the inner-city youngsters attend The Gentle Barn’s Peace Enhancement Program each year.
“Every year we try to expand on the year before and try to give out more gifts and more presents,” said Ellie Laks, founder of The Gentle Barn. “Today we gave away backpacks and books and toys for toddlers and clothes for teens and adults.”
Laks said The Gentle Barn and LAPD’s Southeast Division received donations all month from individuals around the world. These donations included blankets, clothes, books, shoes and toys for children of all ages.
“Kids get to go through toy line and pick what they like,” Laks said. “It’s pretty exciting watching them go through the line and pick up items they want.”
Many of the children who received gifts also attend The Gentle Barn’s special peace program through the LAPD’s Police Activity League Program.
The 10-month program allows children to build relationships with animals, develop kindness and courage, step outside of the inner-city environment and learn to overcome their pasts.
“A lot of the people that live here (in the inner-city) can’t see beyond their neighborhood,” Laks said. “Going to a barn outside the city, they can see that the world is full of possibilities. The life that surrounds them is not all there is. They can grow up and do anything and go anywhere.”
The idea for the toy drive began during the Peace Enhancement Program, when children did not want to make wishes in The Gentle Barn’s Wishing Well because they said “wishes don’t come true,” according to Laks.
“I desperately wanted to do something more from them,” Laks said.
Soon after, a warehouse called the organization to drop off extra toys. With a LAPD Southeast Division police escort, Laks went door-to-door handing out toys to families in the area. From there, the program has taken off.
“This is the sixth year of our Christmas holiday celebration with The Gentle Barn and the most important yet,” said Officer David Kosloski of the LAPD Southeast Division in a press release.
“The network of local businesses, schools, social services, youth programs and the LAPD are committed to building strong relationships within the community of South Los Angeles,” he said.
The afternoon event also allowed children and their families to forget about their anxieties and simply enjoy being with each other.
“There’s so much that they deal with on a daily basis and for just one day the kids can be kids and adults can take a load off and relax,” Laks said. “For one day they know they are taken care of.”
Next year, Laks hopes the toy drive will continue to grow and will expand to offering gifts, like toasters and microwaves, to adults as well.
“In my opinion this is what the holidays are about,” Laks said. “The holidays are for giving and for loving and for sharing and for community.”
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