From corporations gifting hundreds of shiny new bicycles, to a local software firm contributing two or three boxes of toys, to the child donating a single new toy, the mission was the same: To ensure every less fortunate child has a new toy to unwrap on Christmas day.
On Friday, Dec. 15, the gift givers converged on the Honda Center parking lot, which was lined with Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), Anaheim Elementary School District, and Anaheim Resort Transportation buses doubling as collection bins for the 25th annual Spark of Love Toy Drive.
Sponsored by ABC7, with participation from OCTA, the Honda Center, Toys for Tots, and the Orange County Fire Chief’s Association, including Anaheim Fire & Rescue, the massive Stuff-A-Bus event was the culmination of the Spark of Love toy collection drive that began after Thanksgiving.
“Twenty-five years … It’s a very big deal for all of us,” said ABC7’s Leslie Lopez, who covered the event in Anaheim. “It’s really special to see everybody participating.”
The toy collection drive was born of the goodwill that exists between firefighters and those they serve.
Although firefighters usually interact with the public during moments of crisis, the Stuff-A-Bus event allows firefighters to connect with those donating toys and the children receiving them in a different way.
The toy drive provides time for firefighters to connect with residents beyond the emergency call, simply as members of the same community bringing toys to children who otherwise may not receive gifts during the holidays.
With this end in mind, 21 buses were stuffed with toys that were delivered to a local warehouse, where they will be sorted and then delivered to needy children via dozens of nonprofit agencies in Orange County.
Stuff-A-Bus toy drives were also held in in Cerritos, where 9.5 buses were filled; and in Canoga Park and Ontario, where they filled 11.5 buses each.
In addition to the toys collected by firefighters, Anaheim PD and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department were among the law enforcement agencies that dropped off toys their staff donated.
“We get people from all over,” Anaheim Fire & Rescue spokesman Daron Wyatt said. “It is a very unique and varied event. It’s important for us to be here to interact with people in the community to show them that we care. It’s a lot of fun.”
Barry Lloyd, who works for a software company in Anaheim, was on his way to Downtown Disney for the premiere of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” when he stopped to drop off a few bags filled with toys.
“We’ve been doing it for 15 years,” Lloyd said. “A lot of the employees contribute… I think it’s awesome.”
Ranisa Smith of Anaheim and her 10-year old son, Aiden, contributed one toy for a boy and one for a girl.
“We just wanted to give back to the little boys and girls who are in need,” Aiden said. “I want kids to have a present that they can open on Christmas morning so they can be as happy as all the other kids in the world.”
“We’ve been fortunate to be able to give back and I just want to teach him that it is not always about getting but about giving,” Smith said.
Also in attendance was 3rd District Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who said there is a misconception that most Orange County families are wealthy.
“What they don’t understand is that we have a tremendous amount of poverty and we have people that are deprived,” Spitzer said. “It’s just a tremendous outpouring of support and love at a very important time of year for people who are less fortunate. No child should ever be deprived of having toys on the holidays.”
Although not everyone may be aware of this side of Orange County, firefighters see that side of the county every day while responding to calls. They see the need that exists, and they know the impact an emergency can have on a family, and how this can be especially tough during the holidays, said Anaheim Fire & Rescue Community Engagement Manager Elsa Covarrubias. That’s why 25 years later, they are as dedicated as ever to the toy collection drive, she said.