Tina Nichols walked out of the Frontier Building Saturday morning with two large trash bags — one filled with toys and the other with coats — fighting back tears.
Nichols was one of more than 450 families that took part in the annual Day of Giving inside the Frontier Building of the Paso Robles Event Center on Dec. 15.
It couldn’t have come at a better time for Nichols, who is now raising her two toddler grandsons.
“We recently inherited my grandsons. I was not expecting that,” said Nichols, who lives in San Miguel. “To have a community that pulls together and will help in a time of need it just means the world. It really does. I don’t know what I would have done because you live on your income, you don’t expect to have two additional and then the expenses that come along with toddlers, daycare etc. Basically, they probably wouldn’t have a Christmas without this program.”
The free event is put on each year by the Toy Bank of Greater Paso Robles with plenty of help from the San Luis Obispo County chapter of Coats for Kids and the Salvation Army. Families with children in Paso Robles, San Miguel, Shandon, Bradley, and Heritage Ranch receive toys, clothes and gift cards at the Day of Giving, said local Toy Bank President David Finley.
“We signed up 452 families, which works out to 1,110 to 1,200 kids that we will be serving for the year,” Finley said. “It’s been a great thing. We have a ton of volunteers that are from our local community that makes sure this process runs as smoothly as possible.”
A process that after 24 years runs smoothly. Libby Lemm and her husband Rollie started the local Toy Bank. Libby Lemm attended a ceremony Saturday morning honoring her work. Paso Robles Mayor Steven Martin, Councilwoman Maria Garcia, First District Supervisor John Peschong and a representative from state Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham’s office attended the ceremony.
“She (Libby) actually had the idea of doing this 25 years ago,” Finley said of the Day of Giving.
Families register for the Day of Giving and receive a card with a specific time to show up at the Paso Robles Event Center.
Once they arrive they are paired up with a volunteer escort who makes sure they get everything they need from the Toy Bank, Salvation Army and Coats for Kids to make Christmas a little easier on their household.
Thousands of unwrapped name-brand toys were organized on tables by gender and age inside one half the Frontier Building for parents to pick from and place in their bag.
After picking out toys, they moved to the table with stuffed animals and then on to the family game table. They also received a backpack with school supplies and stocking stuffers for each child.
Salvation Army provided a $20 gift card for families.
Parents also chose from racks stuffed with new and gently used coats and sweaters on the other half of the Frontier Building.
On their way out of the Event Center, families could enter a drawing to win one of more than 60 bicycles for children of various ages.
In addition to being escorts, volunteers from throughout the county restocked the tables and the clothes racks.
Mike Brewster, his daughter, his wife and some of her co-workers from American Riviera Bank came from San Luis Obispo to help. Mike was stationed at the backpack table.
“Christmas spirit in it’s truest fashion, really,” Mike said. “It’s nice, real nice. It’s amazing that all of this got donated. Look at all of these toys, I mean they are name-brand toys. It’s fantastic. It really is amazing how the community came together and made this happen.”
Finley explained they are collecting donations year-round, but really start gearing up for the Day of Giving about five months prior to the big day.
“We try not to make it a full-time job,” Finley said. “It’s a big event. We have a lot of partners — businesses in the city and private donors — without their help this wouldn’t be possible.”
One example of Toy Bank donations came via five pickups full of toys donated by the Late Night Cruizers Car Club, Rainshadow Coffee Roasting Company and Borjon Auto Center, who held a show and shine car show in early December.
“It’s nice to live in a community that wants to give back,” Finley said. “All we are doing is facilitating what the community is offering. Without the community, without the volunteers, without the businesses, it would be tough for us to do what we do. To have the joy and the spirit of Christmas coming through it’s an amazing feeling.”