The holiday music is playing, kids are running up to Santa Claus to share their wishes, and cart after cart of wrapped holiday gifts are being wheeled out to families at the Orange County Family Justice Center in Anaheim.
This year, donors bought gifts for 53 families — that’s 243 people, 101 children, and 55 teenagers at the center’s annual Adopt-a-Family event, with an average of three gifts per person.
So many gifts were donated that the center had to use four rooms to store them all, said Program Director Stephanie Bruschini of the Orange County Family Justice Center Foundation.
“I know some of them are struggling. They don’t have very much for the holidays, let alone a Christmas tree or anything like that,” Bruschini said. “To see them open the gifts is just so wonderful.”
The Morales family is waiting until Christmas day to open their gifts.
“It’s awesome,” said Leticia Morales, a single mother with five children. “It’s really hard for me to buy them all presents… This is such a big help.”
“I feel really blessed and honored to have found the Family Justice Center,” Morales said. “They helped me right now for my Christmas presents, and they’ve helped me be a better mother for my children.”
The center provides support and services to people who’ve experienced domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and elder/dependent abuse.
The Anaheim PD’s Sexual Assault Detail and Family Protection Detail both adopted families, as did Orange County Family Justice Center Foundation board members, partner organizations, and other donors. The adopted families are chosen from those who use services at the Orange County Family Justice Center, including programs like Kids Creating Change, Real Teens Real Talk, and Parents Creating Change.
Yesenia Padilla, 14, recently graduated from the Real Teens Real Talk program and says the center has helped her family grow closer.
She’s excited to open gifts on Christmas morning with her 10-year-old brother and their mother, Maricela.
“It’s anticipation, because I really am curious what’s in them and I try to (open gifts) slowly,” Padilla said. “We open them all together and its really fun and we make a mess. I love it.”
Scott Frisbie, owner of two nearby McDonald’s restaurants, donated the food for the Adopt-a-Family party.
“There’s such a need in the community for the services they provide here,” Frisbie said. “You get a tour of the place and see what they do here and you say, ‘What can I do to help?’”
In addition, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim donated towels for each person, and a local book club donated $160 worth of books so that each child would go home with at least two new stories to read, if not more.
Orange County Family Justice Center Foundation Board Vice Chairperson Rebecca Martinez is in a book club with eight other retired Orange Unified School District employees. Club members donated funds for the books, which were all purchased from the Friends of the Orange Public Library bookstore.
The best part of the event, said Lt. Willie Triplett of Anaheim Police Department, is “just being able to see the kids come here with smiles on their faces… watching them see Santa Claus and their reaction.”
“It just kind of melts your heart when you watch them,” Orange County Family Justice Center Foundation Board Secretary Sherry Cain said.