Monday, December 14, 2009

Thousands brave cold and rain in bad economy to receive Christmas toys and food

Despite the chilly weather and overnight rain, families patiently waited in line. The first family had arrived at 7:30 p.m. last Friday. Throughout the night, individuals descended upon an area that wouldn't come alive until 8 a.m. the following morning.

When the time finally arrived, thousands of children, women and men were ready for the big moment. This wasn't a concert or a sporting event. It was the 1st Annual Bernadine Murray Angel City Christmas at the Expo Center near the Los Angeles Coliseum, where new toys and food were being distributed to Southern Californians still hurting from today's difficult economy.

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul's Council of L.A. and the City of L.A. co-sponsored the massive distribution that helped 4,500 individuals. Other local groups and businesses also helped contribute to the event.

A single father with four young children (ages 4-7), who had braved the weather since 2:30 a.m., was one of the beneficiaries. 'Stan,' who had been employed in New York just six weeks earlier, came to California - with his children - to care for his mother, who is battling cancer. The young father had depleted most of his savings on the bus fare to California, where he has yet to find work.

'Stan' said that one of the Society's local Conferences (groups of 'Vincentian' volunteers) had already helped him and his children during their time in California with beds, blankets, clothes and food. When he learned about the toy and food distribution, he knew he owed it to his children to be there.

"It's hard. This (event) is a blessing. This will make a big difference for my family. It's going to bring joy to my children," he said.

Rain continued to fall throughout the event, with the sun becoming visible only after the distribution had concluded. However, everyone appeared to be in good spirits, as the children enjoyed meeting Santa Claus and receiving one new toy each, while the parents were thankful for the food and, especially, the joy their children felt.

Some of the dignitaries in attendance included the following:

* Emcee Leo Stallworth from KABC TV 7 News;
* Actress Tichina Arnold from the television sitcom Everybody Hates Chris;
* Actor Danny Trejo from the movie series From Dusk Till Dawn ;
* Country music singer Laura Bryna;
* Rev. Cecil Murray, former pastor of First AME Church in L.A., and husband of Bernadine, for whom the event was named because of her many years of service to the L.A. communities. Unfortunately, Bernadine is bedridden and couldn't attend.

KOST 103.5 FM added to the holiday spirit by providing Christmas music, while children made their own holiday crafts near the hospitality room that was managed by St. Vincent de Paul.

The Council's David Fields, deputy executive director, represented the Society as he received a Certificate of Commendation from the City of L.A. for assisting with the event's success.

Photos (top to bottom): The Society's David Fields and B.J. Lamothe from the City of L.A. help control the line of people waiting for toys and food; Individuals walk to pick up toys and food; Several children get out of the rain to enjoy some snacks inside the Society's hospitality room; Vincentian volunteers help distribute some of the 4,500 toys.

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