Groups of young children shivered in the dark as they gathered on the front lawn of what was once the Val Verde Boys and Girls Club — but what were they waiting for?
“Santa,” some of the small voices asked. “Where is he?”
A loud noise interrupted the chatter, as three patrol cars rolled up. One was leading the pack with flashing sirens, a fanfare that announced the squad arrival.
The last one had a small stuffed Santa sitting on top, tinsel and a small wreath on its bumper.
The middle car had the words “North Pole Patrol” on its side, with tall, green lines of light shooting up into the night sky, and it had a very special guest inside.
Santa himself stepped out, dressed in red and complete with white beard. His four “Santa’s helpers” flanked him as he ambled across the lawn toward the front door. The kids squealed excitedly as he went inside the building to sit at the front stage, ready to hand out toys from the drive organized by the Sheriff’s Department’s Youth Activity League for Val Verde.
The Santa patrol had arrived to hand out gifts to the youth community of Val Verde one at a time, as they’d been doing for years with toys donated throughout the month of December.
The drive had been operating since the days that the building on Arlington Street in Castaic was the now-defunct Boys and Girls Club servicing the Val Verde area, said longtime site manager Jaime Briano.
Briano had been coming since he himself was a teen to the club housed at the building, which is now the Youth Activity League.
Now he helped organize the YAL’s after-school program, which oversees teen outreach and development, as well as tutoring for the Val Verde community.
“We’re blessed we’ve had so much help,” he said, gesturing at the youth volunteers gathered inside to organize the kids who were there to receive their gifts.
The selection ranged from Star Wars action figures to Tonka Trucks to Powerpuff Girls puzzles, and many had come from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station annual holiday toy drive, said Deputy Brian Rooney.
The YAL partners with the Los Angeles County Parks and Recreation Department, and serves 50 to 60 kids a day all year round. But the toy drive and Santa visit, which sees an average of 250 participants, was something that had been going on even before the YAL was housed in this building.
Laura Velasquez, a longtime resident, had attended the Boys and Girls Club when she was younger, and now she brought her daughter, nephews and nieces to meet Santa that evening.
“Not a lot of us can afford good gifts,” she said as the sounds of “The First Noel” filled the room where kids ages 0-4 were lined up to be the first to receive presents.
“But now we get a chance to get a gift, rewrap it, and give it to our kids. It’s pretty amazing,” she said.
Juan Narciso, a 14-year-old volunteer, said the event gave him and his fellow teenage volunteers purpose.
“It’s so fun, even though it’s also work, putting up tables and handing out candy and organizing games for the kids,” he said of the lucky recipients, who he had helped group by age to wait their turn to meet Santa. “It’s such a great way of giving back. I’ve been coming since I was 12, and I love it so much.”
“SCV Santa,” as the Santa squad was known throughout the Santa Clarita Valley, had shown up for multiple events this holiday season, said Maria Spargifiore, whose kids were dressing up as the mythical figure and his helpers.
“Everyone gets gifts, and it’s really great to help provide them holiday cheer,” she said, looking on as toddlers began squealing over the packages they’d gotten. “And seeing the parents smile, it’s a great thing.”