Home Valley Beat Soboba spreads Christmas joy with toys

Soboba spreads Christmas joy with toys

The San Jacinto High School Cheer team are among those helping to “Unstuff the Bus” at San Jacinto Unified School District’s warehouse, Dec. 4. Photo courtesy of Carrie Best, SJUSD.

Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians | Contributed

Thousands of children will wake up on Christmas morning to a new toy thanks to the generosity of the Soboba Foundation and the Soboba Casino Resort. This year, Hemet and San Jacinto unified school districts each received 1,000 toys to distribute to identified students in the valley. Additionally, about 40 nonprofits had their wishes fulfilled when they were able to pick up toys to hand out at their own holiday events. Nearly 6,400 toys, valued at $20 each, were distributed to the community.

Most of the toys were purchased by Soboba with the help of staff at the San Jacinto Walmart Supercenter, while an additional 1,085 toys were donated to the cause by Imagine This.

“On behalf of Shawn Keep and the Imagine This team, our primary aim is to support Soboba and their commendable philanthropic endeavors within the community. We are genuinely pleased to contribute to the efforts in making a positive impact,” said Craig Perkins, Sr. VP, Data Operations, Imagine This.

Two community Unstuff the Bus events were held to transport the toys to the designated drop-off locations for the school districts. The popular annual events attracted hundreds of volunteers who greeted the Soboba charter bus with cheers, loud applause and much enthusiasm.

The first was held at the San Jacinto Unified School District’s main office on Dec. 4 just as evening rolled in and bright, colorful Christmas lights came on to mark the path of the helpers who formed a toy brigade. Many hands made light work as each toy was passed from the parked bus to the sorters who placed the toys on tables labeled for age and gender to the strains of holiday music favorites.

About 16 Soboba Tribal TANF youths were on hand to help out and Luisa Rivera said, “I like that we’re giving back to the community and people in need.” Several members of the Placencia family from Soboba came out to help. Always known for their extraordinary volunteerism, this year was no exception as family members of all ages pitched in. Members of the Soboba Fire Department also assisted in moving the toys along the line.

There were treats of hot cocoa, cookies and tamales available to all the attendees and on behalf of the SJUSD Board of Trustees Superintendent David Pyle thanked all who attended. “First and foremost, thank you to Soboba. It was just a couple of weeks ago we were doing a similar activity passing out turkey meals to the community and here we are again getting ready for the holiday season with all the holiday presents here,” he said. “This is a 14-year tradition. I think that the holiday season is bringing communities together and it is on full display tonight.”

The toys were then distributed to eligible families who were invited to attend a holiday event on Dec. 9 to pick up toys for their children. Members of the community also stepped up to help out with that event, including members of the Hemet-San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce. Executive Director Cyndi Lemke said, “So many parents expressed their appreciation. One thankful parent was heard saying they didn’t bring their children to the event so they would have presents to open on Christmas morning.”

HUSD’s “Unstuff the Bus” event was on Dec. 7 at Tahquitz High School. With the help of members of the Titan football team, Hemet Police Department Explorers and many others, the unstuffing amid Christmas music, lights and holiday inflatables created a party atmosphere. HUSD Coordinator of School, Family and Community Partnerships Miriam Ortiz, who works with the district’s Wellness and Community Outreach Director Emily Shaw, was pleased with the turnout. “The more the merrier,” she said. “We look forward to celebrating community with peers, students and families. This is definitely my favorite time of the year.”

The theme for their department’s float entry in the recent Hemet Christmas Parade was Whoville so they brought many of the banners and decorations for the evening. They also used the theme for their two parties; the first is similar to the one held by SJUSD, where identified families could pick up the toys, and the other is an “adopt a family” program for those facing housing insecurity for various reasons. About 80 families are served through the second event where “we also provide warm clothing and give them a Breakfast with Santa with arts and crafts and other fun activities,” Ortiz said. “Our goal is to spread joy throughout the holiday season.”

Soboba Foundation President Dondi Silvas said it takes a lot of coordination with many different people to get the toys ready for delivery each year and she credits Sponsorship Coordinator Andrew Vallejos with doing so much. “It’s a lot of hard work but we are all here to help,” she said. “It’s a community effort and it brings so much joy to see the communities come together to help unstuff the buses with all the toys.”

The Soboba Gives Back! toy program goes beyond the school districts. Dec. 5 was scheduled as the designated day for local nonprofits to pick up their allotted group of toys at the Soboba Springs Golf Course where SCR staff, Soboba Foundation members and other volunteers helped them load up their vehicles throughout a six-hour period.

Recipients included Central County United Way. Executive Director Phil Burch said, “Hosting our Santa’s Workshop toy distribution has been a tradition for many years, and the Soboba Foundation’s consistent and generous support is truly invaluable. Their impact reaches countless families facing economic challenges, bringing joy during the holiday season. Central County United Way is profoundly grateful for the Soboba Foundation’s continued partnership, making a lasting difference in our community.”

Tribal member Andrea Helms works for the Soboba Department of Public Safety and is the Lead School Resource Officer at Noli Indian School on the Soboba Indian Reservation. She was happy to have Soboba’s help in supporting the young parishioners at The Well, a church she has attended since she was four years old.

“I work alongside my sisters in the children’s department on a weekly basis,” Helms said. “Many families in our valley are looking for support and a safe place to bring their children. The Well has always been a place where families and children are loved, valued and served. Several kids that attend The Well will have a wonderful gift to open Christmas morning due to the generosity of the Soboba Foundation. The Well will be providing food baskets for several designated families to enhance the holidays for those who wouldn’t otherwise have a Christmas meal. We are thankful for the love and support that is shown for the kids in our valley.”

Stephanie Bruce, Executive Director of Black Voices of the Valley, was grateful that her nonprofit was included in the toy donations again this year. “For the last two years, Soboba has been instrumental in providing toys for the less fortunate and this community is really grateful for the services they provide,” Bruce said. “They provide resources for the community in several ways, but it makes a really noticeable difference during the holidays when people are in need. We are truly thankful because we could not provide these toys to the community if it was not for Soboba.”

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