Solano Aids Coalition President Mario Saucedo knows about the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic. More importantly, he knew he had to do something to lift the spirits of hundreds in his community.
So once again Saucedo put together the Island of Misfit Toys Toy Drive — for the 18th consecutive year — at the Immersive Learning Center in downtown Vallejo on Wednesday night. Only this time, there were safety precautions and different methods that hadn’t been used in the past.
And the smiles on the kids’ faces? Same as it ever was.
“It’s different in many ways this year because we don’t have a Santa, a princess and we don’t have hot dogs and cupcakes and all this food to have right here,” Saucedo said. “The joy is still there, but it’s very different. But I still love seeing the kids’ faces as they pick up the bag of toys — that’s the reason we do this. But at the same time we want to make sure nobody gets sick.”
More than 300 families registered online for the event and it took nearly three days to wrap gifts in huge plastic garbage bags to be given out to all the families. The toys included stuffed animals, Batman action figures, games such as Star Wars Monopoly along with much, much more. Families also went home with a food box after picking up the toys.
Solano Aids Coalition Vice President Calvin D’Ville was happy — and cautious — to help out again.
“Giving is something that we all love to do, as we’ve been doing it for so long,” D’Ville said. “But we have to be very careful. Everyone needs to stay home and not bring the virus to everyone. It’s kind of sad as we are used to people coming out here and having a good time and having people hang around. But we just have take that risk this year due to COVID-19 and people with underlying conditions.”
Saucedo said that the goal was to only have parents show up at the event to pick up the bag of toys, but babysitter issues led to some kids in attendance. Each family also was put in a raffle where seven bicycles and three scooters would be given away.
Saucedo, who just a week ago was worried that there wouldn’t be enough toys to give away, instead found himself thanking numerous people for stepping up in the past week to make the event possible.
The Solano Aids Coalition teamed up with the Vallejo Holistic Health Center and other community partners — including the Vallejo and Benicia Fire Departments, the Greater Vallejo Recreation District, and many others. A GoFundMe campaign raised another $2,450.
“This meant a lot to many people and I would get people coming to my house wanting to donate stuff,” Saucedo said. “It meant a lot to me that so many people cared about this.”
Chris de Asis, a Farmers Insurance agent who is also a volunteer and photographer for the event, said she was glad some sort of version of the event could go on.
“They always do a great job with this event and I love helping out,” de Asis said. “I’m having people come up to me telling me how grateful they are. You can’t replace that feeling. This year has been a struggle for so many people but being here today gives me a hopeful feeling. Maybe this is the light at the end of the tunnel.”