The kids in line waiting to see Santa in the square behind Salt Creek Grille and the Edwards Valencia movie theater on Saturday weren’t being too impatient.
Sure, the Santa was a sight to see. He was perched upon a large sled among pile after pile of wrapped toys, packaged neatly in red and white and labeled neatly by gender and age range, waiting to be handed out to children in need this holiday season.
But despite the long line that snaked all through the square, the kids weren’t counting the minutes too much. They had plenty of other entertainment in the meantime at the eighth annual Combat Radio Christmas For Social Services event. In addition to a free brunch served in the Salt Creek Grille restaurant, kids could meet all their favorite movie characters, courtesy of Combat Radio producer Ethan Dettenmaier.
Parents looked on as a squad of Ghostbusters, Spiderman, Ariel, Dr. Strange, Stormtroopers and robot-controlled R2-D2’s walked around taking selfies with excited children.
Behind them, Jasmine and Aladdin helmed a ring toss and snowball basket game. Kiki from “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” chased some children with a broom in her hand, while Captain Jack Sparrow stroked his mustache as families filed out of the restaurant, where they had been enjoying a gourmet breakfast served from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.
“My favorite character is Iron Man because his suit is really cool,” said Evan White, 6, beaming as he pointed at the Iron Man character walking around.
“The food’s good, I’m happy I get to have an early present, and I got to meet Dr. Strange,” Damien King, 11, said casually as he looked at his phone while waiting to take a selfie with the Marvel superhero.
King and his mother, Ruby Villegas, had heard of the event through Hope Gardens, a homeless service in Sylmar. The organization bussed its clients to the event early Saturday morning, where they joined over 500 families in need who were enjoying the special event being put on.
“My kids couldn’t sleep the night before because they were so excited,” Villegas said. “It’s amazing, it’s our first time here. And it puts a smile on every kid’s face and warms our hearts.”
Villegas’ daughter, Alissa Villegas, was excited because, “I get to see all the princesses!” The eight-year-old squealed as she danced and held hands with Belle and Ariel.
Some famous faces also came from Universal Studios to the Combat Radio event. Maurice LaMarche, a voice actor famous for roles in “Pinky and the Brain,” “Futurama,” and the animated “Ghostbusters” franchise, said he enjoyed coming out to see the people who were delighted to hear him re-enact his characters.
“I was a guest on Ethan’s podcast, and then I came out here to help hand out presents,” LaMarche said. “It’s definitely been an honor to see so many people and I even got to be part of a treasure hunt. I’m a first-timer, but I definitely think I could do this again.”
Bruce Pastel, part of the biker gang the Mongols, also came out to hand out presents, some generously donated by the bikers themselves.
“We’re all guys on motorcycles, and we’re just here to help,” he said. “Everyone portrays us as these big, bad guys, but we went out and bought our toys to come out to do events like these. We love it. This year we got 25 guys to come, and next year we’re bringing 50.”
In the restaurant, Salt Creek Grille manager Jennifer Chadwick noted the event attendance had increased each year the restaurant hosted it.
She’d been there when it first began nine years ago. Each time, the restaurant staff came to volunteer their time to cook the food — which consists of eight refills of pancakes, eight refills of eggs, three refills of hashbrowns, two of sausage and five of bacon, recited Chadwick’s daughter Brooklyn.
Brooklyn, age 10, had been helping since she was 5. This year, she was once again handing out hashbrowns.
“I really like it because it’s so fun to be here, it’s a fun thing,” she said. “I like to see everyone smiling, and see these kids get a real Christmas. And also, afterward, the princesses are also here and I get to see them and the kids play together too!”