Posted on Dec 24, 2014
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
Every year we host a group of children from the projects in South Central Los Angeles, brought in by The Los Angeles police department. These kids have so little and are so wonderful that we wanted to show them that they deserve great things. Oftentimes, these kids don’t even have Christmas or presents, so for the last four years we have brought the holidays to them.
Four years ago, just before the holidays, we were contacted by a company who had 250 toys to donate to us. Jay and I looked at each other and we both exclaimed at the same time, “we can give it to the kids from Watts!” So, we loaded up the Gentle Barn truck and drove down to the inner city. With the guidance and help of the LAPD, we drove around the neighborhoods knocking on doors and giving out gifts. The smiles of the kids and the gratitude of the parents was so rewarding!
There was one family who lived on the second story of an apartment building. The boys came tumbling down the stairs when they realized we had presents and once they had received their gifts they raced up the stairs to show their mom. The mom came out to see what was happening and she was so overwhelmed with gratitude that she walked down the stairs to thank us even though she was missing a leg and walking down the stairs was difficult for her. We tried to go up to her but she insisted on coming down to show her gratitude and respect. When we hugged, she would not let go. We hugged for several minutes and in that hug I felt her gratitude, but I also felt her pain, her devotion to her children, her exhaustion at raising two boys on her own, and her commitment to giving them the best life she knew how. I hoped I gave her some strength and some hope as I hugged her back. When we walked back to the truck my head was spinning with all the emotions I felt from that hug and Jay and I looked at each other and said, “We need to do this every year!”
The second year we went to South Central for the holidays, we parked in the projects and handed out gifts from the back of the truck as families came running from all directions to receive. It was a magical day and we handed out hundreds of presents. Some of the children we saw were not wearing shoes or warm jackets. Every child, however, left our truck with a toy and a smile, knowing that they mattered and they were deserving of good things.
The third year we were able to get many more toys donated as well as shoes, books, and clothes. We parked in front of the police station and families came to us. Every family received a toy of their choosing, a new pair of shoes and socks, clothing and a book. They also got a Tofurkey hot dog, So Delicious Dairy free Nog, and a yummy holiday muffin. It was a fiasco of happiness and we ended up serving 1,000 people!
There were so many wonderful moments of relieved and grateful parents and excited happy kids. The one that stands out the most for us from last year was when a beautiful six-year old girl got in line for a new pair of shoes. When we took her shoes off to try on the new ones, we saw that her shoes were two sizes too small and she had blisters on her feet. We cleaned her feet and put her in a brand new pair of socks and shoes. She was so happy that she was crying, and so were we!
This year The Los Angeles Police Department blocked off the entire street in front of the police station, and they got the fire department involved as well. Kids got to climb onto a real fire truck and meet a real police dog. They got brand new toys, shiny new backpacks full of school supplies, and Pacifica make-up for the teenagers. The parents even got gifts from Dr. Bronner’s and Zouq. The children got to jump in a bouncy house, compliments of Party Planners Plus, and get their faces painted, compliments of Parties by Yvette. FrankenStand was there giving out delicious Tofurkey hot dogs. Hint Water was there giving out refreshments. And, Shave It was there giving out tasty snow cones. Of course, Santa and Mrs. Claus were there listening to children’s wishes and dreams. It was such a festive, fun, and rewarding day that from now on Jay and I do not want to celebrate the holidays any other way than giving to these families.
Each year this holiday event has grown and we have been able to bring cheer to more and more families in need. We want it to be even bigger next year. We would love to give more gifts to more children and we would like to give more gifts to the parents. We are hoping to give them microwaves, coffee makers, and toasters. Most of us have so much and take so much for granted, yet, we realize that it is in giving that we receive the most!
Thank you for supporting us so we can bring celebration to these children and a great life to the animals we save. Your end of the year donation would help us start 2015 strong, enabling us to save even more animals and be there for even more children. Thank you so much for being our partner and helping us change lives! Happy Holidays to you and may you be blessed and loved as much as you bless and love us!
Written by Ellie Laks
Founder, The Gentle Barn