...sort of. Brightly wrapped packages were stacked around the beautifully decorated tree, the room was packed with eager kids and there were plenty of cameras recording the event. A table stacked with cookies and cocoa waited in the next room, a moment of relaxation for the adults after the chaos was over.
There were guests in the home as well. An engine company from the local fire station was present as were several fire explorers, a person from admin and the dept. photographer. It was a festive gathering, anticipation was high.
Like many Christmases in my house - and probably yours, the gift opening was short, loud and intense. Despite the huge mound of gifts, the fifteen or so kids made short work of it. It was over in minutes. The neat pile of presents was reduced to mounds of shredded paper, the toys converted to smiles.
In the midst of chaos, the kids did good. There were no squabbles over toys, everyone was grateful and polite. The cocoa and cookies were great, it was a perfect end to a fun evening.
Soon enough, it was over and time for us guests to go home. The photos were uploaded to my computer, where they sat until we got back from Death Valley.
I had a ton of photos to process last week, including those of that evening. As I went through the images of the gift opening, I found it refreshing to see the smiles of the kids as they opened their presents, then played with the toys and showed them to the other kids. The smiles were genuine and kind of a crack-up. Some of the kids had crooked teeth, some had lost a tooth and the new ones had not yet grown in. Some had perfect teeth, all had eyes that were matching their grins - expressions of happiness.
"It's just too bad that the members of my department will not get to see those smiles". I thought as I air-brushed over the smiling moths and eyes. I promised the director of the abused family shelter that I would not distribute the photos to the department until I brushed over the faces of the kids and their mothers.
Apparently, some of the shelter's residents are still being pursued by those that they fled from. It's called an active abuser situation, shelter staff and the residents are very aware of the risks that active abusers present.
The photos will go out, the faceless kids will still be jumping around and playing with their
new toys - but without smiling faces and laughing eyes, it just doesn't tell the story.
Maybe I'll just have to tell it with words.
By any measure, this years toy drive was a great success . Over 10,000 toys were collected, beating the target by a couple of thousand. Two tubes of Colgate toothpaste were donated as well, I'll tell you the story behind that in a few days.
Our visit to the shelter came a few days before Christmas. The crew at Sta. #3 along with the toy drive coordinators and some people from admin spent an evening wrapping the gifts, Eng. #5 and the others mentioned above delivered them the next night. Our agency has done this at this facility for a few years, it is a rewarding relationship for all.
I know the holidays are over, but I thought this story worth telling. I know people donate toys during the holidays not knowing where they end up. I can tell you that this particular batch of toys went to some good and deserving kids.
Thanks to the members of the RFD for taking on this project, especially to the coordinators and to admin for all of their efforts. Thanks to the citizens of Riverside for coming through with the goods and thanks to you for reading.