By Elia Chuaqui
Coastal clean-up, tutoring, marathons, blood drives — is there anything El Cerrito High School Interact doesn’t do?
For the past few years, the community service club has helped bag the toys gathered by the Richmond and El Cerrito Fire Departments in order to provide financially disadvantaged children with toys for the holidays. After they bag the toys, Interact members pass them out to children all across West Contra Costa County at the Toy Giveaway.
“Interact goes to the fire station, and we bag toys for families," explained senior Abby Carlstad, Interact board member. "The toys are organized loosely by age and gender so it's easier to find toys for the kids.”
There are also various toy bins scattered across the West Contra Costa County and Albany businesses. The department collects new, nonviolent, unwrapped toys that can be gifted to kids up to 12 years old. Toys and money donations can also be donated directly to the fire department to help provide disadvantaged kids with toys for the holidays. People can even drop off toys at the ECHS office, making it simple and convenient to donate for the toy drive, especially for students and their parents.
“I’ve been to the toy drive every year since freshman year,” said junior Kimmy Chao. “I always really enjoy it because it feels so great to help these kids who otherwise wouldn’t have such a great holiday.”
The week before winter break, and the first week of winter break, Interact goes to the Richmond Fire Department, and spends over five hours a day bagging toys gathered from across the county. Many people sign up for this Interact event, as it is a fun and easy way to earn Service Learning hours, as well as a good thing to do.
“I'd say that the toy drive is probably Interact's most popular volunteer event throughout the year,” stated Carlstad. “People just love coming to help out, and the holiday spirit there is unimaginable. There’s Christmas music, food, and a bunch of good people coming out to do a great thing.”
Getting into the spirit of giving is just one aspect of the toy drive. Many Interactors become closely acquainted with each other, but also get a work-out carrying big bags of toys from the warehouse to the truck.
“I had a family of five one time, and my bags were so heavy!” Exclaimed Chao. “I’m pretty small, so I had to get some strong people to help me.”
“My favorite part about the toy drive is being there with all of the other volunteers,” explained Carlstad. “We bond with people we may not have met otherwise, and it feels really festive when we're all together making families happy.”
Anyone who wants to help out with the toy drive has an unlimited amount of resources at their fingertips. Businesses can host a barrel, ECHS students can volunteer, and families can donate.
“There are barrels all across town,” said Chao. “There’s one at the Starbucks in the Plaza, and all over the place. Anyone who wants to donate can do it super easily.”
Interactors look forward to this event year round, and admit that even with the stressful organization process, it is a meaningful event that all ECHS students, as well as other members of the community, should participate in.
“I wouldn't change anything about the toy drive itself, but if it could be a little easier to organize, that would be awesome! But it's completely worth it, regardless of that. Everyone who has time should try to do it,” concluded Carlstad.
Elia Chuaqui is associate editor of the El Cerrito High School paper, El Caballero, and a junior at the school.