Nearly 100 at-risk children see Santa and have wish lists fulfilled.
Vicki Godal /Special to The Malibu Times
The holidays have officially started for nearly 100 children who attended the Children's Lifesaving Foundation's (CLF) holiday dinner at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School on Saturday. All children who attended are at risk. They live with uncertainty. But for one afternoon, at the CLF holiday dinner, they seemed carefree. Their minds were on toys and Santa. The bright-eyed smiles of the children are a success to CLF founder Maria D'Angelo.
The day after Thanksgiving, these children filled out wish lists for the CLF holiday dinner. All children received new bears before dinner, including 6-year-old Kejuan Cox. In the center of the room, a one-legged dance contest hosted stiff competition. Adults hustled about in Santa hats as they began to serve the holiday dinner of hot dogs, French fries and juice. Mark Rosson of California Supply in Gardena, the sponsoring company for this dinner, has been doing the holiday dinners for seven years.
"You see the kids and you know, you're glad you did it," Rosson said.
After dinner, Santa arrived on the stage. The children wait to be called, sit on Santa's lap, get a picture and then get what they've been waiting for, their bag of toys.
"There are 110 bags of toys," D'Angelo explained. "Each bag holds 10 toys for each child, including three special toys from their own wish lists."
After receiving their toys, the children go to a booth to make sundaes with their choice of toppings. They eat their sundaes and watch the others receive their gift bags. Most of the adults present have been volunteers for the CLF at these dinners as well as other functions for years. Mark Kramer (Santa Claus), organizer Violet Parrish and board member Diane Perez have all been working with the CLF for more than eight years.
"When Maria needs anything at all I give it to her," Perez said. "It's amazing. I see the depth of her commitment to these children and I say yes to what ever she asks."
At Saturday's dinner, living proof of the CLF's success is Mario Arevalo, 24, a journeyman and technician. But 10 years ago his future was bleak.
"We were staying at the Sunshine Mission in Santa Monica," Arevalo explained. "My parents were into drugs. Me and my six brothers and sisters were a mess. They were going to split us up and put us into foster homes. Then I found out we had been put into a program called Adopt-a-Family. My brothers and sisters and me were able to stay together and went to live with my aunt. CLF helped us. When I got older, I received two education scholarships through the CLF. Now I help them."
D'Angelo points out that Arevalo and his family were the very first family to benefit from the Adopt-a-Family program through the CLF. D'Angelo explained that the CLF was originally founded to provide primary and preventive healthcare to at-risk and homeless children. She soon found that these children needed more than medical attention.
"They needed [to be] out of their environments," D'Angelo said. "Most had never seen the ocean, a mountain or the forest. They saw nothing but inner city."
D'Angelo said the need is constant throughout the year.
"Children come year-round from shelters, missions, Boys and Girls clubs, elementary, middle and high schools. All are at risk of perpetuating the cycle of poverty," D'Angelo explained. "CLF shows them another life."
D'Angelo said the City of Malibu really supports the CLF.
"From the mayor to the city to its service organizations and churches like Our Lady of Malibu, we receive support," D'Angelo said. "Plus we have the Malibu students. They procure such items for us as school supplies and books, in addition to the toy drives they organize for the CLF. We have been blessed."
CLF holiday dinners will take place every Saturday throughout December. A CLF toy drive continues through Dec. 25 with a drop-off sites at Malibu High School, Juan Cabrillo, Webster, and Malibu preschools. A drop-off site is also at the Agape Spiritual Center at 5700 Buckingham in Culver City. More information on toy drives or the Children's Lifesaving Foundation can be obtained by contacting Maria D'Angelo at 310.457.6166.