At Tahquitz High School on Dec. 9, volunteers make sure all 1,000 toys designated for HUSD families are transported from the bus to the campus’ storage area.

The generosity of the public who donated toys to this year’s Soboba Gives Back! Toy Drive was outstanding but when Soboba Tribal Elders heard the amount was a little short of expectations this year, they decided to support the project by donating 400 toys.

“Now we can ensure that every group that requested toys for kids in their programs and communities will wake up with a new toy on Christmas morning,” Soboba Foundation President Dondi Silvas said. “We are so grateful to our Elders for stepping up to help out this way.”

Soboba Elders stepped up and donated 400 additional toys to the Soboba Gives Back! Toy Drive that benefits local families. Tribal Elders were thanked for their support by other tribal members. Back row, from left, Tribal Council Treasurer Daniel Valdez, Soboba Foundation President Dondi Silvas, Tribal Council Chairman Isaiah Vivanco, Tribal Council Sergeant at Arms Kelli Hurtado, Pamela Valdez and Tribal Council Vice-Chairwoman Geneva Mojado. Seated, from left, Tribal Council Secretary Sally Moreno-Ortiz, Susan Soza and Rosemary Morillo, president of the Elders group. Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Additionally, Ricardo Macias who works at Soboba’s Parks & Recreation Department, requested players who attended his recent Wolves Basketball Camp donate a toy to the event as well. At least a dozen extra gifts were collected as a result of his generous team and their families.

More than 5,400 toys valued at $20 each were distributed to about 35 worthy nonprofits and community organizations who work with disadvantaged families all year long and know of their struggles, especially during the holiday season.

Soboba Elders purchased and donated 400 toys to the annual Soboba Gives Back! Toy Drive to ensure all the requests from nonprofits and others who serve youth would be met. Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Hemet and San Jacinto unified school districts each received 1,000 toys to distribute to identified families most in need this year. The Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians’ 45-foot-long luxury bus was filled with toys that were unstuffed at events hosted by both districts.

SJUSD held their event on Nov. 29 and hundreds of community members of all ages joined in the toy-passing brigade, transporting toys from the bus to its warehouse. San Jacinto High School cheerleaders and friends sorted each toy by age group to make distribution easier when they were picked up by the families at a later date during a drive-through event.

The Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians’ 45-foot long bus was stuffed with 1,000 toys that were delivered to San Jacinto Unified School District for distribution to area children. Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Soboba Tribal Chairman Isaiah Vivanco thanked everyone who helped that night as well as the effort that went into getting the bus stuffed with toys before they could be delivered. “I want to thank our Foundation, Andrew Vallejos and all our volunteers who put these toys together,” he said. “We know the San Jacinto district will get these toys out to the kids who need them. We can’t thank you guys enough. We really appreciate all of you coming out here today; it’s good to see the community come together and support each other. It’s an awesome event.”

Soboba Foundation President Dondi Silvas said, “It’s always great to see everybody here to help out the school district. We can always count on you to be here to support us all and all the efforts that we’re trying to do. Thank you for helping unstuff the bus filled with 1,000 toys!”

Soboba Foundation President Dondi Silvas, left and Tribal Chairman Isaiah Vivanco thank the hundreds of community volunteers who helped “unstuff the bus” at San Jacinto Unified School District’s warehouse on Nov. 29. Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

HUSD hosted its event at Tahquitz High School on Dec. 9 where toys were taken from the bus for safe storage until they could be distributed to needy families. Both events put participants in a festive mood with blaring holiday music and hot coffee and cocoa.

Aside from the school districts that enjoy robust relationships with Soboba, nonprofits were delighted they were able to plan Santa visits and Christmas celebrations where each child attending could receive a toy, thanks to the Soboba Gives Back! Toy Drive.

Christmas lights, hot cocoa and holiday music keep volunteers cheerful during the San Jacinto Unified School District “unstuff the bus” event. Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Jared Dobbins has been the executive director of VIP Tots in Hemet since 2017. He said they were thankful to have received 150 toys for ages 18 months through six years old for children attending the center as well as their siblings. “We have a long partnership with Soboba for the toy drive,” Dobbins said. “Our staff, as well as our families, look forward to it every year and we are beyond grateful for the partnership with Soboba to make this happen each and every year. It is a huge blessing to our families!”

Dobbins said VIP Tots has been open for 43 years and it “exists to create engaging, inclusive environments where young children learn, and adults have access to positive solutions for supporting children.”

Community volunteers of all ages form a toy-passing brigade to transport 1,000 toys from the Soboba bus to the SJUSD warehouse on Nov. 29. Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Irene Siler represents two organizations that benefit from Soboba’s generosity: Church of the Saints and Higher Ground Church of God in Christ. Each received 50 toys for kids ranging from three through eight years of age. She is vice president of the Church of the Saints and administrative director of outreach.

“Prior to COVID-19 we would have an outreach at Weston Park in Hemet or at our church,” Siler explained. “We would fix Christmas dinner and have music and games. We passed out clothing and other donated items. We ministered to the families, passed out salvation tracks, books and bibles. If the event was held at the church, there was a Christmas program by our youth ministry. At the end of each event our pastor would hand out the gifts to each child.”

Members of the Tahquitz High School competition cheer team wait to assist with transporting 1,000 Soboba Gives Back! Toy Drive toys from the Soboba bus to a storage unit at the high school campus in Hemet. Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

Due to the pandemic, New Beginnings Church of San Jacinto was reopened in April. It is a subdivision of the Church of the Saints. This year, as Christmas is on Saturday which is the church’s normal day of worship, an abbreviated service is planned, with gifts being handed out afterwards.

“We are grateful for the generosity of Soboba,” Siler said. “It is because of their altruism we have now and in past years been enabled to be a help in our immediate communities and beyond. It means a great deal that we are able to bless multiple children in our community who might not be able to receive gifts.”

Volunteers help “unstuff the bus” of 1,000 toys that were donated to Hemet Unified School District from the annual Soboba toy drive. Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians

She said that many of the families are homeless, or the parents just need a little extra help. “For last three years we also helped out the parents by wrapping the gifts; that saves the family money, also,” she said.

Church of the Saints is a nonprofit, small fellowship of churches, organizations and individuals. “On a small scale, we help where and when we can,” Siler said.

Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians | Contributed

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