During the first week of December, La Sierra University students took time out from studying for finals to bring Christmas joy to youngsters in two Southern California cities.
On Dec. 8, 2017, second graders at Riverside’s Collett Elementary School and young patients at the Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital enjoyed a bit of holiday fun courtesy of students volunteering with La Sierra’s Center for Outreach & Mission Service and members of the La Sierra Golden Eagles baseball team, respectively.
Sixteen baseball team members descended on the children’s hospital that morning, armed with a cartload of 50 toys collected over two weeks. Trucks, super hero action figures, dolls, and other items were later distributed to young patients who faced hospital stays over the holidays. That afternoon in Riverside, a group of more than 130 La Sierra University students participating in the Santa’s Friends outreach arrived at Collett Elementary for some one-on-one fun with approximately 120 second grade students. They made crafts, visited with Santa, and opened presents.
The Golden Eagles baseball team gathered in the children's hospital lobby to deliver their collected gifts, which were later dispersed by medical center personnel. They were treated to a tour of the hospital, which is in the beginning stages of a major expansion. It was the team’s first Christmas outreach activity, and head coach Gabe Gamboa vowed to return next Christmas with additional athletics teams to deliver toys to young patients.
The act of giving encourages the student-athletes to engage in charitable outreach in the future, Gamboa said. “It’s so important, especially this month. … It’s about how many lives they’re going to affect," he added.
Outfielder Josh Jubilee, a business marketing major and his mother, Aurora Jubilee, organized the toy drive for the children’s hospital. “She’s very giving and wanted to give us a chance to give to the community,” said Josh.
“It’s a great chance to give back for the holidays,” commented Chris Johnson, a senior business management major. He plays first base for the team and is a left-handed pitcher.
“It’s humbling, and nice to give to the community,” added Golden Eagles pitcher Garret Larson, a senior communication and public relations major.
Gifts that Keep Giving
When such donations arrive at the children’s hospital, the patients and their families are blessed by the awareness that “someone outside the hospital is thinking about them,” said Dorothy Clark Brooks, the hospital’s bereavement and community education specialist. And families impacted by the generosity of others often give back even after their children leave the hospital, inspired to pay it forward, she said.
At Riverside’s Collett Elementary School that afternoon, a multi-purpose room buzzed with laughter and excited chatter as second graders and La Sierra University students huddled at tables making holiday crafts together. After crafts, each second-grade class performed a holiday song for the gathering. Then Santa entered, played by La Sierra University senior Allen Miranda, eliciting cheering and clapping as he encouraged the youngsters to tear into their presents.
The sixth annual Santa’s Friends program, organized by La Sierra’s Center for Outreach & Mission Service, or COMS, aimed to bring holiday cheer, friendship and gifts to students at the school where more than 80 percent of families participate in the national free lunch program. The university students purchase and wrap Christmas gifts prior to the event based on Christmas wish lists the youngsters send.
“Some of our college students signed up because they remember being on the receiving end when they were younger and just wanted to give back," said La Sierra Assistant Chaplain Linda Biswas.
In some instances, the elementary students' families are in such dire need that wish lists include basic necessities. This year’s requests included a warm blanket, socks, a gift card to Ralph’s supermarket for groceries. “We as COMS are working with the teachers to get some of the more basic items to these families,” Biswas said.
During the Santa’s Friends party, 7-year-old Alexander Mendoza, when asked what he liked best about the event responded, “Presents, my [university] buddy, and that’s it.”
“It’s really good,” said 8-year-old Shannon Garcia. “We get to meet new friends in college.”
Garcia’s university counterpart, Vianay Valadez, a senior elementary education major at La Sierra said she participates every year in the elementary school holiday party. “I love it. It’s my favorite,” she said. “I like meeting the kids. I get to see how excited they are.”
Second-grader Daniel Puente, also age 7, said he liked the presents and the songs the most. He smiled with excitement as he opened his Christmas gift and saw the Lego Batman set he had requested.
His La Sierra buddy, senior psychology major Kenneth Miranda, commented, “It’s really cool to just be able to have a hands-on experience in the community.”
Aaron Alonso, a sophomore social work major at La Sierra bought children’s books for his Collett Elementary buddy, 7-year-old Audrey Sanchez. “I love it,” Alonso said. “I loved meeting Audrey and love that she loves her books.”
“I think it’s amazing that we can impact kids’ lives and make them smile,” said pre-nursing freshman Lindsay Purpura who was enjoying her first outreach experience with Santa’s Friends.
Samuel Hinojosa, a 13-year-old 8th grader from Redlands joined his sister, Elyssa, a La Sierra University student, in participating with Santa’s Friends. He commented, “I’d rather be here with the kids. Christmas is about having love all around.”
— Darla Martin Tucker is the director of public relations for La Sierra University in Riverside, California.