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Toy drive makes season a lot brighter

Toy drive makes season a lot brighter

Release Date: 11/20/2006

Two church ladies, a cop and a couple of bikers sat in a police station lobby Monday morning talking about toys. No, it's not the opening line to a joke. It was a meeting to kick off a toy drive that's going to bring a big Christmas smile to the faces of 5,000 needy kids living in the San Fernando Valley. Kids who live in poor, tough neighborhoods where it's always bad news when a police car pulls up in front of their apartments, say Alice Medellin and Janel Meza, members of Living Hope Community Church in Mission Hills. "All these kids see are a father or brother being arrested by the police. They need to see something positive from the police, and this helps," Medellin says. Nick Mendoza, a member of the Our Gang motorcycle club, and Chito Lopez, a member of the Soldier for Jesus motorcycle club, agreed. "You look at the faces of these kids when you're handing them a toy, the incredible excitement they're feeling, and you can tell many of them never had one before," Lopez says. "They're jumping with joy, and their mothers, most of them single moms, are crying." The church ladies and the bikers give a lot of the credit for the growth of one of the Valley's largest toy giveaways to LAPD Mission station Officer Mike Scott. "He just has this passion," Meza said. "We've had holiday toy programs at our church for many years, but nothing ever this big. Mike's made it fun, bigger and better." As a young officer five years ago, Scott started his own Christmas toy drive for the kids in his patrol areas, trying to show them that a police car pulling up in front of their apartments didn't always have to be bad news. "Mike knows you have to get involved with these kids at an early age to make things better, and that's what he does," says Val Paniccia, operations commander for the LAPD's Valley Bureau. "He's got a big, kind heart, and these kids can see it." From a few dozen children at that first holiday party, Scott's toy giveaway grew to nearly 3,000 kids with their moms showing up at the Los Angeles Police Academy to receive a toy last year. But many of the kids living in the Valley didn't have transportation to get to the academy near Dodger Stadium, so this year it's being held locally in Mission Hills at the police station. The theme is perfect. "If you have, come and give. If you need, come and receive." Scott, who was injured earlier this year in a car crash while pursuing a car thief, is hoping for the same kind of community support he received during his recovery to carry over to the kids. "The kids and parents in so many of our neighborhoods have their own personal tragedies every day," he says. "They need our support, too." The San Fernando Valley Christmas Toy Giveaway is being held Sunday, Dec. 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Mission Community Police Station, 11121 N. Sepulveda Blvd. in Mission Hills. There will be free food, games and a puppet show. Children must be present and accompanied by a parent or guardian to receive a gift. For more information on donating, or a list of sites offering free bus transportation to the event, call Living Hope Community Church at (818) 365-5550. Or go to Scott's Web site, www.lapdtoygiveaway.com.

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