CDU’s Project Santa Claus Delivers 400 Toys to Neighborhood Children
Maria Lopez wasn’t really expecting to do too much this year in the way of shopping for Christmas gifts for her two children.
All the joy seemed to fizzle out of the holidays after her husband Noel lost his job on the shipping desk of a department store. Suddenly, the hard times got harder, a harsh reality that her two young children—one seven years old and the other three months old—simply can’t understand.
“What do you tell them?” she asked. “We’re suffering like everyone else. But they don’t know what that means. ”
The Lopez family story is not new. Jobs are scarce, money is tight and children everywhere have been warned not to expect an abundance of treasures under the tree. For many, it’s a job simply navigating the hardships.
That’s why, some 16 years ago, Charles Drew University began a tradition of helping neighborhood families celebrate the holiday season with “Project Santa Claus.”
And this year, more than 100 families showed up on Friday in the Cobb lobby in a celebration of Christmas. And more than 400 toys were handed out to neighborhood children through the project sponsored by the Drew UCLA chapter of the Student National Medical Association.
“The need is greater than ever,” said Desiree White, a curriculum coordinator for the Office of Medical Student Affairs, Drew/UCLA Medical Education Program. “But the university family really rallied around the cause, donating gifts and money and volunteering physically, spiritually and emotionally to pull everything off.”
The annual holiday event attracts a spirit of giving that extends beyond the Charles Drew University campus.
“Wrapping gifts, painting faces, making children feel good about the holidays is important,” said Akua Searcy, a UCLA law student who learned about the Drew event from students at school. “We wanted to turn out and volunteer.”
Sonia Morales, a Drew medical student, said she remembers receiving a treasured Christmas toy from a family doctor. Her family didn’t have much. The toy meant a lot.
“That’s why it was important for me to come here,” she said. “I know what it feels like to do without. This was something I had to do. There were people who sacrificed for me.”
Brenda Martinez, a 16-year-old student at the King Drew Magnet, said she came to volunteer because she knows what it feels like to do without.
“I wish I had had help when I was smaller,” said Martinez, who dreams of someday going to Cornell University to study to be an architect.
In the Cobb lobby, the dreams of many young children were only beginning to take shape. Nine-year-old Kalani still believes in Santa Claus. Seven-year-old Jose isn’t quite sure about Santa Claus, but loves his new racing car with remote control. “This is fine for me,” he said.
Foster mother Sharon Hill brought the 14 children under her care to soak up the Christmas spirit.
“It’s very important that the children at least have a little taste of Christmas,” she said. “There’s so little money out there and we can hardly buy any gifts for the children. In this economy, you get the same amount of money but you can’t pay the same amount of bills.”
And nearby, Maria Lopez offered another thought about her family’s holiday spirits after visiting Charles Drew.
“Thank you! Thanks you for all you’ve done,” she said. “Hope to be back next year.”