Fire trucks from agencies all over Orange County were lined up to greet residents stopping by the Honda Center on a recent Friday to drop off their toys for the 26th annual Spark of Love Stuff-A-Bus Toy Drive.
Thousands of toys were crammed into 23 ½ Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) buses as well as Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART) buses to be taken to a nearby warehouse and sorted for distribution by the Orange County Toy Collaborative to children in need across the county.
“This is always a very special day for us,” Anaheim Fire & Rescue Interim Chief Pat Russell said. “Anaheim Fire & Rescue is founded on giving back to the community. That’s one of our pillars and our belief for every firefighter here in Anaheim. Any opportunity that we have to be involved in the community and give back in any way we can we take full advantage of.”
“This is one of our favorite events that we do every year,” Russell said.
The best part of the event, said ABC7 reporter Greg Lee, is seeing the generosity of the community during a year when residents have faced fires, shootings, and other tragedies and natural disasters.
“We’ve got kids as young as five years old to people in their 90s who’ve come every year to donate and it’s incredible to see the community come out and give,” Lee said. “Some of them don’t have a lot to give but they give and that spirit to me is unmatched anywhere and it’s all for a really amazing cause.”
Firefighters, residents, schools, companies, community groups, and college cheer teams all banded together to provide holiday cheer in the form of toys for kids that might not otherwise receive a treat during the holiday season.
Poncho’s Restaurant Bar & Grill donated a truckload of bicycles for the event, and companies including Jakks Pacific, Watson’s Soda Fountain & Cafe, Rockwell’s Bakery, Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, and Scooter’s Italian Ice had booths at the Stuff-A-Bus event, handing out cupcakes and other goodies to donors.
“We are grateful,” Lee said. “But people are resilient, and for them to be as resilient as they have been and to still take part in this amazing tradition, I’m grateful beyond words.
Firefighters, trainees, cadets, OCTA staff, and others started working at 3:30 a.m. and helped until the event ended, at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s a great way to give back to the community,” said OCTA Media Relations Officer Joel Zlotnik. “There’s just so many people this time of year that can use a hand and it’s a lot of work, it takes a lot of effort from all of our staff, all of our operations folks and the drivers, but at the end of the day it’s really worth it if we can make people have a happier holiday.”
The international charity organizations Rebel Legion and 501st Legion came out to greet those dropping off gifts and support the cause. With their homemade Star Wars costumes, the volunteers were a delight for Star Wars fans and a popular photo stop.
“Knowing that we’re collecting toys for these children that will really appreciate it means a lot,” teacher and volunteer Natalie Benavides said. “Seeing how happy (the kids) are to know that they’re helping other kids, it’s also a great feeling.”
Anaheim Fire & Rescue Firefighter/Paramedic Francisco Mora has been participating in the Spark of Love Toy Drive for 15 years.
“It’s great to see the kids’ faces light up when they come in here and see all the firefighters and the Star Wars characters,” Mora said.
Madeline, 10, and Michele Morgan of Orange donated games, balls, dolls, action figures, a hair dryer, and a curling iron. Morgan wanted be sure that older girls received a gift as well.
“Lots of kids can’t have gifts so it’s important for us to give what we have,” Madeline said.
Students from Canyon Rim Elementary School donated toys throughout the month, and celebrated the spirit of giving by coming out to the Spark of Love Stuff-A-Bus event.
“It’s fun,” said student council class representative Amy Duong, 9. “I hope they’ll have a happy holiday.”
The Walnut Village Retirement Community in Anaheim donated several boxes filled to the brim with toys. Residents donate throughout December every year.
Judi Marsh, Walnut Village director of life enhancement, takes her grandchildren, ages 10 and 13, shopping for the toy drive.
“It’s a great learning experience for them because Christmas is more than just receiving,” Marsh said.
“The small efforts that we make can make a difference on child,” said Anaheim Fire & Rescue Cadet Nicole Nelson, who’s participated in Spark of Love for four years. “When we all come together we can really do a lot of things.”