When her 4-year-old’s educator told College of the Canyons student Celida Espain that her son was improving his concentration skills by playing with LEGO sets, she knew just what to buy him for Christmas.
But facing financial struggles, Espain didn’t think she would be able to afford a set for her son.
That was until Wednesday, when she and other COC students in the institution’s EOPS CARE and CalWORKs program had the chance to hand-pick toys for their children that were donated by local firefighters and Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station deputies. That’s where she found a LEGO set for her son.
“I was told to consider getting him some LEGOs for him to work on his focus because he moves around so much as a 4-year-old,” said Espain. “But they can be expensive, as a low-income student. So, when I saw them here I thought, ‘Wow, this is a blessing.’ It’s a big help for me.”
From books to stuffed animals and bicycles, dozens of items were spread across tables inside the EOPS CARE building for students and their children to choose from for the holidays.
The toy drive is part of an early Christmas event, which the Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education, or CARE, program started last year for its students.
“Last year we had a student who did not have enough money to give her children the Christmas she thought they deserved and that inspired my coworker and me to figure out we could get free gifts for our students,” said Lupe Izaguirre, the program case manager.
The program is designed “for marginalized students who may not be able to continue their education without our resources,” said program Director Pamela Brogdon-Wynne. Support services offered include advising, networking, workshops, and grant and transportation allowances.
But when the holidays come around, EOPS CARE offers more for families in need. With an increase in recipients this year, program officials said they would like to continue the event.
“Around this time of year, we like to have food, books and toys to make sure our students have the kind of Christmas that everybody else has,” said Brogdon-Wynne. “These students are part of our family.”
And that’s how re-entry student and single father of two Andre Tabnak described his experience Wednesday.
“They’re like family,” he said. “They offer us the tools and resources to be successful and not only that, but they put their own emotions into it. They really care.”
Last year, Tabnak had an empty Christmas tree due to his financial situation, but this year, “I got a couple of gifts, including a bike, and I’ll be wrapping them up for them.”