For many kids this Christmas, Santa will be arriving in a big red fire engine with a bike to give them and, if not a bike, then some other toy collected by members of the Marazzito family committed to carrying on the toy tradition they started more than a decade ago.
Every year, the staff and management at the Drifters Cocktail Lounge kick off the last month of the year encouraging patrons and the public at large to donate a Christmas gift for their annual toy drive.
On Friday morning, Santa’s sleigh — aka the big red fire engine from Los Angeles County Fire Station No. 107 — pulled up to the Drifters bar across the street on Soledad Canyon Road and loaded up scores of toys donated over the past month.
“We usually give the presents out on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” Capt. John Rossi said, referring to firefighters on duty those days who happily carry out their elf-like chores giving presents to needy kids.
Although many of the donated items find their way across Los Angeles County, Rossi and his team of helpers “make sure many local kids get them,” he said, adding that many of the toy recipients end up in the hands of kids who live in mobile home parks on Soledad and Sierra Highway.
The toy drive was started by Dennis Marazzito Sr.
Last season, however, his brother, Joe Marazzito, and Dennis’ son, Dennis Marazzito Jr., picked up the mantle and began working together, to keep the tradition, after the death of its founder Dennis Marazzito Sr..
Both surviving Marazzito men were on hand to greet Rossi and his team when the fire engine pulled up to the Drifters front door.
“It’s something my dad started a long time ago and we decided to carry on the tradition,” Dennis Marazzito Jr. said Friday.
As his 5-year-old son, Hendrix, darted from toy to toy, inspecting the collected items, the tradition was already being celebrated by the next generation of Marazzitos.
This year marks the 10th year the toy drive exchange has happened between Drifters and the Fire Department, with the help of Marazzito’s business partner, Johnny Schwinn.
“My dad just had a big heart and when he got older and started making money he started this,” Dennis Marazzito said. “He loved everybody and he especially loved kids.”
And, especially beyond that, he loved kids with bikes.
“He helped out kids who didn’t have a lot,” he said. “And, my dad got particularly excited about showing everybody the bikes.”
Marazzito’s father enjoyed seeing the faces of kids light up when they were given a bike as a present. And, even though he isn’t here to see them, there will be many of those lit-up faces on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Marazzito, both Dennis Jr. and Joe, had many Santa helpers they wanted to thank including: Chrissy’s K-9 Clippers; Rose Marazzito, the people at the VFW #6885 and the employees of Drifters.