Christmas party brings smiles, festivity to local children
Christmas came early this year—on Tuesday afternoon, to be exact—for some 200 kids in need of a little extra cheer.
Granite Creek Community Church was the venue for a KidPak Christmas Party, hosted each year by KidCare International.
KidCare, a Claremont-based nonprofit with the aim of assisting “desperately disadvantaged children,” helps provide food, clothing and education to kids in places across the globe, including Tanzania, Haiti, Russia and Mexico.
A few years back, however, KidCare founder and president Larry Kapchinsky realized there is quite a bit of need right in his backyard. The Christmas party was born.
Staff at each Claremont school and a couple of Pomona schools are asked to identify economically disadvantaged students who could use a Yuletide boost. They are then “adopted” by community members who create a KidPak for them. This entails filling a brand-new backpack with socks, toiletries, school supplies and gifts appropriate for their age and gender.
A peek at one of the backpacks, designated for a boy aged five through seven, revealed books, a drawing pad, a plush monster truck and a set of Play-Doh, among other swag.
As the students invited to the shindig entered a Granite Creek banquet room, their anticipation was palpable. They were handed jingle bells and a raffle ticket before being directed to tables bedecked with a Christmas tree centerpiece, candy canes and a tray heaped with homemade cookies.
The families then settled in, enjoying the baked goods and all the lemonade they could drink, while event organizer Erica Alanis took to the mic.
Ms. Alanis led the guests in Christmas carols, invited children to visit with Santa Claus and called off raffle numbers for some big-ticket toys donated for the affair.
Several lucky kids won items like a Bluetooth-controlled robot, bicycles and no less than seven scooters. Every kid was a winner, however.
Along with being called up to receive their KidPak, they each got the chance to pick two toys from tables full of donated goodies.
The toys were collected by the Claremont Police Department, in partnership with the city and the nonprofit organization Keeping Good in the Neighborhood (KGNH).
Claremont police officers were on hand throughout the festivities, as were local firefighters. Sergeant Robert “Buzz” Ewing and his fellow officers say they look forward to events like the KidPak Party.
“It’s absolutely awesome. It’s all about the kids this time of year,” Sgt. Ewing said.
Mingling with the Claremont first responders proved to be inspirational for Tristen Franklin, 10, so much so that he choose a model of a Ford F-150 police truck for his toy.
“I want to be a police officer when I grow up,” he said. “Out there, they had a police truck. I got in it. It was cool—a fun experience.”
Every toy at the event makes its way to an owner, KGNH founder Betty Crocker noted.
“The extra toys we take to the kids at the local motels,” she said, referring to a small but significant number of CUSD students who make their home at places like the Claremont Lodge.
“All you have to do is connect with one kiddo,” Ms. Crocker said. “They look at you and their eyes really light up.”
The eyes of Lisette Ayala’s children certainly brightened at the sight of the holiday bounty. Ms. Ayala is the mother of four children, including a three-year-old, two Vista students and a 13-year-old at El Roble.
Things can get tight around the holidays, because “bills come first,” she said. So Ms. Ayala, now in her second year of attending the KidPak Party, called the event a blessing.
“It’s a great opportunity to get gifts but also to see the community get involved,” she said. “I give my respect to the CPD and the fire department. ‘Tis the season to make children happy, but also to make adults come together.”
Ms. Alanis notes that the event takes a lot of work. KidCare volunteers get the backpacks from Los Angeles in August and then reach out to the school sites in September, looking for prospective guests. They begin to distribute the backpacks by October.
She emphasized what a collective effort the holiday party is. Citizens Business Bank in Ontario provides a lot of support, Ms. Alanis said. And given that KidCare International has office space at Granite Creek, it’s a natural that church members would pitch in.
Women from the congregation baked the cookies and children, mostly girls, were on hand to help orchestrate the event. It’s organized chaos, but its something Ms. Alanis looks forward to.
“I keep coming back because of these kids,” she said. “You see their happy faces, and their families are so grateful.
Ms. Alanis said she used to hear that the KidPak Party might be the only Christmas participants get. At one time, she thought that might be a bit of an overstatement.
“I find out it’s true. It captures your heart,” she said.
KidCare International is not connected to Granite Creek, per se. Mr. Kapchinsky was pastor of the church for a number of years, however, and his son Joshua Kaphchinsky is now pastor.
Mr. Kapchinsky founded the organization in 1991 after a visit to Russia. While many people internationally were celebrating the fall of Communism, he saw little glee at a Siberian orphanage he visited. The children, he learned, were living on a half-cent daily allowance of food money.
When the director informed him that the kids didn’t have shoes for the winter, Mr. Kapchinsky was inspired to act:?“I said, ‘I promise you I’ll be back before wintertime with shoes for the kids.’”
Mr. Kapchinsky made good on his promise, and he and his wife Janice began to build KidCare International. More on this remarkable local organization will be included in a future edition of the COURIER.
To learn how to donate or contribute to KidCare International’s efforts, visit kidcare.org.