Toys 4 Our Own drive lets local children enjoy the holidays with a special gift

Photo courtesy Alex Vo
Santa Claus takes a moment to have a photo taken with a young boy who walked up for the picture at the Dec. 4 holiday tree lighting ceremony in downtown Morgan Hill.

By Marty Cheek

Regardless of the crisis of a global pandemic, many Morgan Hill residents intend to make the month of December “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the song lyrics go.

The Kiwanis’ annual Holiday of Lights Parade in downtown Morgan Hill was cancelled because of Santa Clara County public safety guidelines. It’s an event that lets families launch the holidays with music, laughter, and Santa Claus riding his Magic Ship of Christmas at the end.

Despite the cancellation of the parade, Mr. and Mrs. Claus did come to town Dec. 4 at 5 p.m. to help a few socially-distanced people light the annual holiday tree standing at the Community and Cultural Center southwest corner.

The Morgan Hill Downtown Association created a short video broadcast on YouTube to remind residents of the community they have much to be thankful for — with Santa making an appearance by the lit tree.

Normally this is the time of year when we all take a moment to pause, spend time with family, and reflect in anticipation of all that the new year will bring, observed Kerry Wallace, a member of the association, who co-owns Bubbles and Brew with her husband, David Dindak.

“This holiday season is like no other, ending a year unlike any other,” she said. “As we look ahead to what we all hope will be better times, we wish the people of the community  moments of peace amid the difficulties and uncertainty, connections with family and friends even if they can’t be in person, and most importantly, health.”

The one-minute video shows a variety of downtown businesses decorated for the holidays, many taken by a drone hovering over the streets. A voice-over narration shares a message from the business-focused nonprofit:

“On behalf of the Morgan Hill Downtown Association, we wish you a happy and safe holiday season. It’s been a long and trying year. We are so grateful for the extraordinary service, dedication and support from our first responders, fire and police, healthcare workers caring for us through this pandemic, new downtown businesses that opened, and those that stayed open despite a tough year. Innovative assistance from city staff and officials that has kept businesses afloat and helped our beloved city’s economy. And the beloved Morgan Hill community that has supported the downtown and the entire city. As we all find new ways to connect, celebrate, and reflect during this holiday season, we’ll keep the downtown lights burning brightly and the holiday tree lit at the Community and Cultural Center to help us all feel the holiday spirit within. Happy holidays from the Morgan Hill Downtown Association.”

Jordan Rea with Pacific Design installs one of the final branches of the holiday tree located at the corner of East Dunne Avenue and Monterey Road.
Photo by Marty Cheek

This year’s holiday festivities might be more subdued because of the pandemic preventing socializing. But Morgan Hill residents refuse to let COVID crush the spirit of the season. Many are taking time to be more contemplative and help those in need.

The Edward Boss Prado Foundation held its annual Toys 4 Our Own toy drive to make sure all local families have gifts to give their children. The foundation set up large barrels in various stores and other sites for residents to drop off the items. The community responded by giving plenty of games and playthings for local boys and girls.

“I was a little worried because a lot of businesses are not open so there’s no staff, but surprisingly we’re doing very well,” said Cecelia Ponzini, who started the foundation in honor of her son.

The Cal Fire stations and Morgan Hill Police Department brought toys after only three or four days of collecting. Ponzini and her husband, Gary, were relaxing at home when officers in seven patrol cars made a grand entrance.

“I saw a bunch of flashing lights and it scared me – I thought it was a fire or something,” Ponzini said. “They had put the cars all facing the house. The neighbors must have thought it was a raid. They brought tons of toys.”

A view of a worker inside the downtown holiday tree.

Ponzini’s homes during the first half of December resembled Santa’s North Pole workshop with all the toys that come in. Ponzini bagged as many as 60 toys in one day. The bags are collected by staff with the Morgan Hill Unified School District, which selects families from 10 different schools to present them the toys. The foundation also gives toys to children in Gilroy.

“At the end of the day, all the kids understand is that it’s Christmas. They might not understand the whole COVID thing, so we need to make sure that we give them Christmas,” Ponzini said. “We can’t do this without the community.”

The foundation also helps provide food for financially struggling families through its Cecelia’s Closet program. Because of the COVID-19 impact on the economy, its volunteers have seen in the past few months many more people arriving than in previous years.

“I’m seeing families that are normally donors. They’re reaching out for help now so it’s really desperate,” Ponzini said. “I feel bad because the families are embarrassed, I can tell. Right away, they say when things get back we’re going to continue to support you.”

From 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Dec. 24, the Prado Foundation will host a special breakfast for the South Valley’s homeless at San Ysidro Park, at 7700 Murray Ave. in Gilroy. Those who attend will receive a brand-new sweatshirt, a pair of socks, hand sanitizer, gloves, and a mask. They’ll also be given a bag with a warm breakfast burrito, chips, water, and dessert.”

On Saturday, Jan. 16, Ponzini’s Closet will hold a food giveaway to provide enough food to last two weeks, including bags of rice, beans, cans of tomato sauce, spaghetti, pancake mix and syrup. Families helped by government nutritional programs often must struggle in the last week or two of the month until the start of the next month when they get new food stamps and can resupply their cupboards.

“This is going to be open to everybody who needs food because this is not just about the challenged families, this is also for families who are new to hunger,” Ponzini said. “Anyone can come to the Closet. Pop your trunk open so that we can put the food in and you can leave.”

Marty Cheek