After months of collecting toys and fundraising for local charities, Combat Radio’s efforts to bring a true Christmas to kids in need culminated in an event held at Salt Creek Grille on Saturday morning.
Saturday’s festivities occupied the entire plaza where Salt Creek and Regal Edwards Valencia Cinema are located and had everything a child could ask for – a red carpet, superheroes, the Grinch, vehicles from movies and of course Santa Claus and his helpers.
As part of the drive, a large portion of unwrapped toys were brought to Combat Radio’s reading of “A Christmas Carol” on Nov. 21 at The Canyon, which drew in hundreds – including local dignitaries.
“So this event we basically feed about 600 children give or take – depending on the year, post COVID has been a lot slower – from social services and victims of domestic violence and abuse,” said Red Dodge, event organizer and producer for Combat Radio. “So we invite them to come down, Salt Creek graciously opens their doors and then provides a buffet for everyone and then once they all get their breakfast, they get to line up and see Santa, and each kid actually gets a gift for them.”
Dodge said the gifts handed out at the event were divided up by age, so Santa could find a child on his list (which he actually had) and hand them an age-appropriate gift. The entire experience, the months of work, had been a rewarding and emotional experience for Dodge.
“I’ve already cried like five times today. So it’s great, especially when Santa shows up,” said Dodge. “I mean look at the kids, like most of these kids don’t get any time with their families, let alone get, you know, breakfast and then Christmas and gifts and seeing Santa. so it’s pretty great.”
While there were multiple nonprofit organizations and charities that participated in the drive, and Saturday’s event, the group that spearheaded it was Make the World A Better Place, started by Shawn Dettenmaier. Shawn, the daughter of main organizer of the event and host of Combat Radio, Ethan Dettenmaier, started Make the World A Better Place as a child after seeing a friend experience homelessness. What started as a childhood dream of bringing Christmas to kids in need was now a reality for hundreds of children.
“I’m usually on wrapping duty for them. So I love when I’m wrapping something, and then I send it in and…, they’re so happy to have it. It’s wonderful,” said Shawn. “It’s very wild. I think it’s gotten bigger every year. I think we did the first one in about 2008, when I was in third grade and that one was not short notice, I would say, but we hadn’t had this full-fledged idea yet and when we finally pulled that off, we were like, ‘OK, what are we doing next year?’ I think this is the 13th year now.”
Her dad, Ethan, said while the turnout and impact of the event was inspiring, it was a small dent in the large issue of homelessness.
“It’s bittersweet in a way because it’s good for the day and we’re doing what good we can but this is a small part of the overall problem,” said Ethan. “It’s really not hard to be kind. There’s not enough of kindness for some stupid reason. So on one hand, I’m inspired but what I’m really inspired about is, I don’t really have much to do with this. I just use the telephone and I call people, like I call these guys like [Soldiers for Jesus] and The Mongols, the MC’s, and they do a toy drive, and then they do a turkey drive.”
Ethan said both the Soldiers of Jesus and the Mongols played a sizable role in the toy drive — several members of both motorcycle clubs were present at the event. Multiple charitable organizations were also involved in the drive and local dignitaries, including City Councilman Bill Miranda, were and have been invited to Combat Radio’s events.
“Seeing all these young kids excited about seeing Santa Claus and seeing all these characters. That just brings so much joy to my heart,” said Miranda. “I’m sure it does to everybody’s heart over here today. It’s just fantastic.”