Holiday Party Thrown for Needy

Holiday Party Thrown For Needy

By Janine Zúñiga


December 10, 2006

Wearing a tiny orange work smock with his name on it over jeans and a T-shirt, 6-year-old Albert Castro conferred quietly with Santa after waiting in a long line yesterday at Qualcomm Stadium.

“I told him I wanted a pack of cards,” said Albert, who enjoys playing the Yu-Gi-Oh! trading-card game. “And Star Wars games, too.”

Albert’s mother, Karen Castro; 7-year-old sister, Irene; and 4-year-old brother, Artie, were invited to a holiday party hosted annually by the philanthropic Nice Guys organization.

The Castro children, each holding a stocking filled with candy and toys, a memento of their visit with Santa Claus, then headed off toward a carnival-type swing ride and another long line.

For the past 14 years, Nice Guys has hosted the party, inviting disadvantaged families who are referred to the group by schools, churches, military groups and other community organizations.

Nice Guys was formed in 1979 to raise money for those who “need a hand up, not a handout,” said former Nice Guys president Skip Giesting.

The nonprofit group has no paid staff, so every dollar raised goes straight into its programs, Nice Guys president Craig Meier said. This year’s effort raised nearly $600,000, Meier said. The group also provides funds to help military personnel, especially those who are returning home with injuries.

More than 650 families, including nearly 3,000 children, participated yesterday. A chill in the early-morning air gave way to warmer weather and a high of 65 degrees as children of all ages enjoyed hot dogs, games, animal exhibits, rides, law enforcement demonstrations, live music and Santa.

Marcus Brass, 5, thought about what he wanted for Christmas as he and his parents, Twanya and Jamarsa Brass, prepared to get in line to see Santa.

“Maybe a choo-choo train,” Marcus said.

The Brass family, who live in Chula Vista, didn’t attend last year but went to the Nice Guys’ holiday party two years ago and really appreciated the help. Twanya Brass said they got everything they needed – “a lot of canned goods, a turkey, stuffing. You just got to cook it.”

Jamarsa Brass said it will help them stretch their Christmas budget.

“That’s money in your pocket that you can keep,” he said. “Those turkeys are expensive.”

As they were leaving, each family also received a ham, two bags of groceries and a gift certificate for Mervyn’s department store.

Some took advantage of free flu shots.

Jamal Francis,7, looked away as a nurse gave him an injection. As a bandage was put on his arm, Jamal said it didn’t hurt. His mother, Keisha Francis, wasn’t so brave.

“He was afraid, but he ended up being stronger than I was,” Francis said. “And it did hurt.”

The orange smocks worn by many children were donated by Home Depot, which also provided thousands of do-it-yourself toy-making kits. Loud hammering was heard as children pounded nails into wood to make napkin holders, birdhouses and photo frames.

“I wanted to make one for my mom,” said Michelle Mattie,11. “I think I’ll paint it yellow and give it to her for Christmas.”

(Reprinted with permission of the San Diego Union-Tribune)

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