It was the biggest Christmas event ever for Skid Row families at the Los Angeles Mission on Friday. Thousands of toys were wrapped and handed out to kids in a huge Christmas Wonderland tent – as all enjoyed a gourmet meal served to nearly 4,000.

Toyota was the primary sponsor for the event, with toys donated by JAKKS Pacific, and the Sharing the Spirit Holiday Party presented by the Festival for Children Foundation. And as usual, a host of stars turned out to brighten everyone’s day!

“It takes a lot of support and volunteer hours to put this size of celebration together,” said Herbert L. Smith, President of the Mission. “Thousands of lives were touched today, not just the guests, but the volunteers and staff, too. I saw lots of smiles and laughter, something you don’t often see on the streets of Skid Row.”

Thanks to a financial donation from Toyota as well as thousands of toys from JAKKS Pacific and hundreds from other donors, children were delighted by the day. The Sharing the Spirit Holiday Party featured Santa, decorations, music and crafts for the children. Toys were wrapped so children had the choice of opening them immediately or waiting until Christmas morning. Hundreds of volunteer hours were spent sorting, wrapping and marking the gifts so they could be distributed in an age and gender appropriate manner.

Celebrity Chef Ben Ford of Ford’s Filling Station worked with the Los Angeles Mission Chef Chris Cormier and the kitchen staff to envision and prepare the meal. There was lemon-rosemary roasted chicken, the Mission’s famous mac and cheese, fresh glazed carrots with thyme, a special Winter Fruit Chutney created by Chef Ford, and apple compound butter for the dinner rolls. The meal was rounded out by pies for dessert.

“Los Angeles Mission is extremely important to the entire community of LA,” Said Chef Ford. “Being born and raised in LA, I’ve watched them grow and handle the daunting task of feeding LA’s disadvantaged. I was very excited when they asked me to be part of their 75th anniversary holiday celebration, and I look forward to feeding the hearts and souls of our guests.”

Finishing touches on the meal were provided by Chef Ford and Gilles Marini (Parenthood), Boo Boo Stewart (Twilight), and Edwin Hodge (Cougartown) – along with Tracy Underwood from sponsor Toyota and Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, Founder of Festival of Children Foundation Friday morning in a special demonstration kitchen. The meal was served by celebrities, elected leaders and other volunteers to the seated guests in the Christmas decorated outdoor dining area on Fifth Street.

“The Los Angeles Mission provides wonderful support and services to Los Angeles families in need, and Toyota is proud to help the Mission make the holidays a bit brighter for them for the second year in a row,” said Underwood, Toyota Motor Sales’ national manager of corporate philanthropy. “Two hundred of our associates from our Torrance campus were onsite to volunteer their time at the Mission’s holiday dinner to show support for those working to rebuild their lives.”

“The Los Angeles Mission is very grateful to Toyota and the other companies who donated to make today’s event successful,” said President Smith. “The economy doldrums and high unemployment have really impacted Los Angeles, and we are seeing that impact every day as more individuals and families come for help. Coupled with a downturn in donations because of the same economic situation, we are faced with doing more with less. It is because of generous donors that we are able to continue to help those who need it every day – not just for the momentary need, but to help long-term.”

JAKKS is pleased to provide toys for the Los Angeles Mission Christmas Celebration to create a magical experience for thousands of deserving children this holiday season,” said Anne-Marie Feliciano, Vice President of Corporate Communications & Philanthropy, JAKKS Pacific. “We are grateful to the Los Angeles Mission for the vital work they do to improve the lives of underserved children in the community.”

Festival for Children Foundation staff and volunteers arrived early Friday morning to set up the 2,000 square foot Festival of Children Foundation Sharing the Spirit Holiday Party tent on Skid Row. There were decorated Christmas trees, giant nutcrackers, Santa and his sleigh, Hello Kitty crafts, and each child received a bag of toys. More than 50 volunteers made a very special place for the children of Skid Row with decorations, snow and loads of fun.

“These children need and deserve to feel special,” said Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, Founder of Festival of Children Foundation. “At the end of the day our hope is that they also feel loved.”

Friday morning started early for the staff and volunteers and the Mission. There were last minute gift donations to wrap, and the big dinner to prepare. And the volunteers in the kitchen early Friday also served breakfast to those who came early to stand in line. Volunteers also handed out hot breakfast sandwiches and cider to the waiting families.

At 5:00 AM Fifth Street from Wall Street to San Pedro was closed to vehicular traffic and the street set up started.

Many who came to Friday’s event live in temporary housing in the Skid Row area, others in shelters, and many came from the streets. All are greeted by staff and volunteers with love and served a hearty meal and given holiday treats. As they waited to be seated and served, the guests enjoyed holiday music from a number of local musical groups.

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