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January 18, 2022

Toys for Tots hits 33 years in Pajaro Valley

WATSONVILLE—For the past 33 years, the Toys for Tots program has delivered tons of toys to children in the Pajaro Valley and around the nation, for Christmas. This year is no exception, despite a host of limitations from the ongoing pandemic.

On Nov. 12, the coordinator and co-founder of the Santa Cruz County chapter of Toys for Tots, Delilah Valadez, was at the toy storage and warehouse facility, going down her clipboard to check off the various organizations who picked up their bounty of wrapped gifts.

“We actually started the toy drive back in July,” she said. “Because of supply shortages, higher fuel prices, shipping and distribution issues, the game plan had to be changed. A lot of our packages are now brought to us by Amazon—through the mail by online shopping.”

Also, the standard Toys for Tots gift drop-off barrels, typically stationed at area fire departments for donations, are gone due to the pandemic.

Toys for Tots is a program run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve which distributes the toys to children of select families whose parents cannot afford to buy them gifts. The program was founded in 1947.

Retired Watsonville Fire Capt. Matt Ryan has also played a big role with the program as chairperson. For years, he and a crew would show up at various locations in an antique fire truck, stuffed with wrapped gifts for delivery. They would also pick up batches of gifts.

Dozens of volunteers make the distribution possible, Valadez said, including folks like Watsonville Fire Capt. Rick Pettigrew, who has put in more than 30 years.

“People continue to be extremely generous,” Valadez said. “What we are seeing this year is, instead of Black Friday, we now have Cyber Monday, where people are giving and ordering gifts and donations online. But the good thing is: Any day can be Cyber Monday. They are stubbornly kind and we revere them.”

Valadez said anyone can contribute to the program by visiting santacruzcounty.toysfortots.org.

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