Ten-year old Samantha Cabral said she likes “everything” about the holidays, but naturally, her favorite moment comes on Christmas morning.
“Just waking up and opening my presents,” she said.
The girl from Lakewood will have several surprises to wake up to this year, thanks to the Toys for Tots gift giveaway held Saturday at the Tacoma Elks Lodge.
At least 250 families showed up to receive free toys at the event, which was the last time that Pierce County’s Toys for Tots program planned to distribute toys before Christmas.
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Wearing Santa hats, several Elks members helped Samantha’s mom, Destiny Corkern, and other parents choose gifts from tables stacked high with dolls, plastic trucks, board games and stuffed animals.
“Christmastime is one of the hardest times financially. It’s good to be able to put a few nice toys under the tree for the kids,” said Corkern, who picked out toys for Samantha as well as for her 5-year-old son, Vincent, on Saturday.
“I’m not going to let them look at anything — it’s still a surprise,” Corkern said, gesturing to the bag she held in one hand.
So far this year, Pierce County’s Toys for Tots program has distributed about 70,000 toys to low-income families, mainly in Pierce County, said George Hight, the co-coordinator of the nonprofit. The toys come from donations the nonprofit receives throughout the year, Hight said.
About 5,000 families in Pierce County received free toys through the Toys for Tots program late last week — mainly by visiting local offices of the state Department of Social and Health Services, which coordinated the toy distributions.
Families were eligible to receive free toys if they are on state or federal assistance programs, such as food stamps, or qualify for free- or reduced-lunch programs at public schools.
But not everyone can make it to a DSHS office during the day, particularly if they have to go to work, Hight said. That’s what Saturday’s last-chance toy distribution was for.
At the Elks Pavilion on Saturday, most children sat and waited while their parents picked toys for them, but 2-year-old Izaiah Bonaparte decided to take things into his own hands.
He walked up to one of the tables and selected his own present: a toy police helicopter, complete with rescue lights and sirens. He played with the toy’s buttons, mesmerized, for several minutes while his father picked out additional toys for his siblings.
Andre Bonaparte said the Toys for Tots donations will help him create a memorable Christmas for his children this year.
“It really means the world,” said Bonaparte, who lives in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. “Even though I work 40 hours a week, sometimes you can’t get everything they want.”
Russ Harr, chairman of the Elks “Stocking Stuffer” program, said the goal of the program is to make children like Izaiah Bonaparte and Samantha Cabral smile.
“That’s what it’s all about,” he said.