The spirit of giving runs deep in the South Valley, especially during the holiday season and Gilroy-based St. Joseph’s Family Center (SJFC) is grateful for the community’s generosity and participation in their annual Toy Giveaway day, which takes place this year on Dec. 21.
More than 750 families who preregistered in October for the event will flock to the center—wish lists in hand—handing them off to volunteers who gather from the thousands of donated toys the perfect gift for the child or children in their family, ages 10 and under. Last year the number of donated toys provided each child with two gifts.
“We usually get donated 3,000 plus toys, there’s a lot of toys that come in,” Vicky Martin, Director of Community Engagement at St. Joseph’s, says. “We’ve heard from several children it’s the only toys they get. So it’s nice that we can give them a couple.”
The continuous support of local vendors, and even those outside the community, like St. Anthony’s Church in South San Jose, are key to the toy drive’s success. The same can be said for local resident, Vicky Goicovich.
Six years ago when David Cox, Executive Director of SJFC, was notified that the Toys for Tots program would no longer serve the Gilroy area, he immediately reached out for help.
Goicovich was his first call. She jumped right in by enlisting the students at St. Mary’s, where her children attended, in a community toy drive.
Since 2010 the number of volunteers, including many of the students who volunteered six years ago, has grown into the hundreds.
“Dozens of volunteers coordinated pick-ups, sorting and bagging of toys during the holiday season,” Goicovich says.
“Each year a team of volunteers helps organize the giveaway day,” says Goicovich. “Suzanne McCarthy has been a lead volunteer for the past six years and helps coordinate efforts with many local schools. We spend the day ensuring volunteers receive breaks, provide snacks and water, and oversee the students and other volunteers.”
Goicovich gives a great deal of credit not only to her volunteers, but also to the Gilroy Fire Department who through the cooperation of the firefighters’ local 2805 began their own toy drive when the Toys for Tots program ended.
“One hundred percent of the donations collected through the local 2805 go directly to St. Joseph’s, so all the toys stay in the city of Gilroy,” Las Animas fire station engineer, Nick Garrett, says, adding that he’s worked closely with Goicovich, whom he considers, “a really nice lady, a very good heart,” over the past six years, and he’s always amazed at the generosity of the community.
“The community of Eagle Ridge, they have a party every year, kind of like a pot luck, and that’s a huge donor for us,” says Garrett. “Walgreens on First (Street), they always come through huge. They give bags and bags of toys.”
The goal for last year’s drive was 2,000 toys. The day before the giveaway, Goicovich and her merry band of volunteers delivered 2,400 toys to the doorstep of SJFC. This year they’ve upped their goal to 2,500.
“The barrels go out right around Thanksgiving and the giveaway is on the 21st, so to get that kind of response from the community is huge,” says Garrett. “It’s the reason we’re still able to do it. We keep getting bigger every year, so let’s keep it rolling.”
Cox believes another advantage of the annual toy giveaway is a growing awareness throughout the community.
“I think what’s really nice about our agency is that it does really expose people first-hand to the need that’s out there, because a lot of people in the community are not aware of the need, or to the extent, or the size, or the breadth,” Cox says. “That exposure I think, really is beneficial.”
“We love, we love, the support we get from the holidays, it’s overwhelming sometimes,” he says. “But we’d love to channel that enthusiasm, we’d love to channel those resources, we’d love to channel that energy and that awareness so that it is all year long, that’s always our goal.”