Santa Claus has his workshop of wonders and his elves who make toys — and together, they spread Christmas joy. But, just yet, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services might give him a run for his money.
On Saturday, the DCFS Santa Clarita office, located in Valencia Corporate Plaza, set up a holiday drive for more than 800 foster youth and families.
“We have birth parents who are here because they may have lost their job. We have foster parents who help us take care of our kids every day,” said Michelle Penez, a DCFS administrator and lead organizer for the holiday drive-thru event. “This is one way of helping them.”
The holiday drive would not have been possible without DCFS’ community partners, Penez said.
The Santa Clarita Church of Christ has hosted the event for the past 16 years. Tidings for Teens, an organization that helps foster youth, donated gift cards and bags to teen youth ages 13-21; Code Read, a nonprofit that provides children in low-income communities with books to close the literacy gap, donated bags of books.
Paradigm, a local band in the Santa Clarita Valley, performed for families; DC Food Café provided free lunch; the West Ranch High School cheerleaders brought cheer, too; and lastly, Santa Claus made a guest appearance and gave a warm farewell to children as they left the event.
“This is our second year having to do (our holiday event) as a drive-thru because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Penez said. “Last year, it was a little bit crazy, but we figured out the magic to make fun for our community and to get a chance to be with our kids.”
Derek Schnyder, a foster father of five children, has attended the event for four years. It was a lovely and heartwarming time, he said.
“This is a beautiful thing for the kids,” Schnyder said. “(My kids) They’re loving it. They’re enjoying it right now. They’re blessed (to have this).”
More than 70 volunteers helped to make the event a success. Jennifer O’Conner, who leads the benevolence ministry of the Santa Clarita Church of Christ, said they’ve hosted the holiday drive for 16 years because it’s been part of her family’s heart.
“We started this 16 years ago, and I think it’s just so rewarding,” O’Conner said. “If we can bring some joy to these families and these amazing kids once a year, that’s all that matters.”
“We have so much respect for all the social workers, and I know it’s their job, but they go above and beyond their call to duty,” O’Conner added.
Kaylin and Jessica Mai, sisters and co-founders of Tidings for Teens, said they and their cheer team at West Ranch High School gave out gift cars and spread cheer.
“Gift cards from stores that they like would much better benefit teens because a lot of times during the holidays they receive gifts that are too young for their age group,” Kaylin said. “So, that’s what we’re here for.”
“We went to our cheer coach and we explained what we were going to do, and they were all on board to come to help us,” added Jessica. “It makes the kids feel happy to see more of our community involved in this event and it’s nice.”
Penez said they were blessed to have so many volunteers. Some of them were at stations and welcomed families, some volunteers ran back and forth from one area to another to make sure Santa got a child’s toy request, and even “Helpful Honda” showed up and brought treats to share with families.
“We have a foster parent who takes care of teen boys in Santa Clarita. She was excited to be here because sometimes those boys don’t get anything, let alone if you know that they don’t have any family,” Penez said. “Sometimes, it’s only really us, and the community that wants to make sure they know they’re loved and cared for.”