While most families were traveling to reach a destination away from home this Christmas season or preparing their homes with decorations, baked goods and wrapped presents, Phillip Basquez and his family spent Dec. 22 making sure lots of San Jacinto children got a new toy.
Basquez, a member of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, decided a couple of years ago to hold a toy giveaway event to provide for families that couldn’t afford much. Last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he knew many families were having a hard time and wanted to make sure children had a merry Christmas.
This year, although things have improved for many, some still are struggling and Basquez and his family wanted to do what they could to help out. “I just think giving back to the community is important; I grew up here,” Basquez, 34, said. “I feel each child deserves a gift.”
He set up a pop-up area near Regal Cinemas movie theater in San Jacinto three days before Christmas and posted the event on Instagram and Facebook, inviting the community to come with their children. Those who saw the post shared with others and there was a long line already in place when the giveaway officially began at noon.
With the help of his brothers, friends, children, including his son Delos and daughter Lokelani and his mother, Johnna Valdez, Basquez gave away 300-plus toys. Everyone adhered to safety protocols as only one family at a time was allowed to view all the toys displayed on multiple tables. Each child in the family could choose the toy they wanted. There were dolls, trucks, stuffed animals and so much more. It was like shopping in a toy store, only the gifts were free to the kids.
“The first year, I bought all the toys and last year we bought the majority of them but friends that liked what we were doing donated toys, too,” Basquez said. This year, Valdez was able to be included on the recipient list of the Soboba Gives Back! Toy Drive, which provided 150 gifts.
Basquez said people driving by stopped because they thought the toys were being sold but when they found out what he was doing, they offered to donate money. “We thanked them for the offer but told them it wasn’t necessary,” he said.
He said the feedback from grateful families was heartwarming as they received many comments such as “thank you,” “God bless you,” “we don’t see this often,” “this is wonderful” and “we appreciate this.”
Valdez, who is on the board of directors for the California Indian Manpower Consortium Inc., was happy that the nonprofit donated reusable water bottles and hot cocoa bombs they could distribute to each family as well.
“My son started doing this because he wanted to give toys to the kids in this town and he wanted his own kids to learn about helping those less fortunate,” she said.
Basquez was happy that this year’s event was bigger and better than last year, and he was pleased that so many children were able to receive a toy. “We look forward to next year,” he said.
Basquez helps with other groups that do toy drives throughout the year since needy children enjoy gifts at any time, not just for Christmas.
To learn more about future events, follow him on Instagram @bingbong1883.
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians