On Saturday, Dec. 19, the Local Hearts Foundation in partnership with the organization For The Children, distributed around $35,000 worth of toys during its 10th Annual Diamond Christmas Toy Giveaway at MacArthur Park.
The event was both drive-thru and a walk-up area was open for those who didn’t have a vehicle, with something available for kids of all ages from sensory toys for toddlers, to trucks and dolls for children, and headphones for teens.
A major partner for this year’s toy drive was the organization For The Children and SOS Booking who contributed over $35,000 worth of toys to the giveaway. If the name sounds familiar it’s because it’s also the namesake of the For The Children punk and hardcore music festival that SOS Booking has organized for the last 9 years prior to COVID-19. During the festivals, proceeds from admission would go towards buying toys and necessities for kids.
“Typically, that’s where we raise all the toys from, as it’s part of the admission to get in, you got to bring a toy each day,” said Andrew Doyle, organizer of both For The Children and SOS Booking in conjunction with his partner Nate Rebolledo from hardcore band Xibalba.
Although this year’s in-person music festival was canceled due to the pandemic they still managed to raise thousands in funds by manufacturing limited T-Shirts featuring exclusive designs donated from several bands that would be on sale for only 72-hours, of which 100% of the proceeds went towards their For The Children Toy Drive.
“Obviously this year it’s different because we can’t do a festival. So what we did was we contacted all of the bands we’ve worked with over the years and friends of ours to donate shirt designs, and we’ve been printing the shirts and selling them for all the proceeds to go to charity,” Doyle said. “All the profits from all the shirts raised $35,000 and we were able to buy all these toys out of that.”
Doyle and Tito “Hood Santa” Rodriguez from the Local Hearts Foundation began working together about two years ago, after a mutual friend of theirs suggested they link up when Doyle needed a Santa for a distribution event he was doing with the organization Help Me Help You.
“I wanted a bilingual Santa too so that worked out great, he rolled out to my event and played Santa for all the kids,” Doyle said.
Rodriguez then asked For the Children if they had any extra toys to possibly help the Local Heart Foundation with their own toy giveaway event and that commenced their partnership.
“Ever since then we’ve just been doing it together and that’s the last few years now,” Doyle said. “We just combined our events, we were basically doing the same thing in two separate lanes and instead we just merged forces to make it bigger and as big as we could.”
Now Tito Rodriguez was finally back in the costume that bestowed upon him the “Hood Santa” name, simultaneously greeting families and posing with kids who ran up to hug him while also dealing with city officials and the Long Beach Police Department.
The giveaway lasted for over three hours, with the car line having wrapped around the entire block and extended onto Cherry Ave.
New sponsors this year included McDonald’s and Richard Montañez, the creator of Hot Cheetos, who is joining the supportive lineup including SOS Booking, Diamond Supply Clothing Co. Brand, Bisnar Chase Personal Injury Attorneys, Antiviral Station, Mr. Nice Guy, The Pacquiao Foundation, Grizzly Grip Tape, Foos Gone Wild, Trace3 and Grandeza Hot Sauce.
Previously the Local Hearts Foundation has also held its 5th Annual Diamonds and Turkeys Distribution and their Back to School Drive where they’ve also been met with massive demand, and every single item being claimed.
This time, however, they still had toys left over which they were going to continue distributing at other toy giveaways throughout Southern California. They also had scheduled to donate 8 pallet’s worth of facemasks to local fire and police stations.
The Diamond Christmas Toy Giveaway started 9 years ago with just HJ Chong, Tito “Hood Santa” Rodriguez, his wife Patrina Rodriguez, and Chong’s friend Adrian Herrera.
“I was broke, oh my goodness, I was so broke and struggling,” Chong said as he recalled being only 19-years-old when they organized the event.
Even though this year they have about 10 times as many people helping them out now. Chong and Rodriguez are still as involved.
“You see this?” Chong said as he pointed at himself, still composed after orchestrating the event for weeks now, “But you don’t know that I haven’t slept since yesterday,” he said with a collected smile.
He was up late at night still preparing for the event and woke up at 5 am, to heat-press shirts for the volunteers that would be joining them that day. The heat-press machine ended up giving out at about 1 am before he had to switch to iron the rest of the 60 shirts by hand. Initially, the job had been assigned to someone else however the individual had gotten diagnosed with COVID so the Foundation was unable to accept around 80 shirts.
The LBPD made their presence known as they surrounded the park, overseeing that the appropriate COVID precautions were being implemented as well as assisting in the traffic control of the event.
Before entering the gift area, all attendees were made to wear masks and sanitize their hands with one of the hand sanitizer stations donated by Antiviral Station. Volunteers also put in their best efforts to make sure they and the attendees were social distancing at six feet apart.
“I think they’re doing their job,” acknowledged Chong. “We want security, we want them to handle traffic for us.”
Overall HJ Chong, co-founder of the Local Hearts Foundation felt the event was a success, “The community stepped up.”
“This is like my Christmas,” Chong said, “I’m just overwhelmed with joy, we’re just regular people honestly, putting an idea out there and people are stepping up to the plate.”
“I’m just overwhelmed with the continuous support we get.”