Despite being three days away, Christmas came early this year for Nicole Uribe and her three children, as one of 1,000 families who received gifts Friday night from the Central Coast Toys for Tots program.
The event, held at the California National Guard Armory in Santa Maria, will help cap the area's annual Toys for Tots campaign, which kicked off Nov. 1.
Started by the U.S. Marine Corps in 1947, the program, which was co-facilitated by the Santa Barbara County Community Action Commission, seeks to provide gifts to families with children who could not otherwise afford to purchase them.
"We have families that are homeless or live out of their car, who don't have any means at all to provide any gifts to their kids," said Maggie Suarez, program coordinator with the commission. "Their first priority is to put food on their table and provide for their children. We try our hardest to provide for the families here."
Rounding out her third year heading the program, Suarez credits community support and generous donations with helping provide gifts to more than 2,500 children throughout the Santa Maria Valley.
"We had a few deliveries today so we kept looking at the bags to see which needed a little bit more," she said. "Sometimes Christmas can be a little stressful for them."
Clutching her golden claim ticket, Uribe rounded the corner of the building as the line progressed inward. Within minutes of entering, the mother of three traded her ticket for a bag containing gifts for her children, 9, 5 and 3 years old.
"We just left the shelter two years ago," she said, explaining that her family of four lived at the Good Samaritan Shelter in Santa Maria before securing housing. Poised to start at a new job soon, Uribe said she is thankful for the community support her family has received over the past few years.
"This is like a blessing. We can barely afford our rent as [it] is," she said.
As Uribe headed for the exit, four fast-pitch softball players — Maddie Millan, Janelle Wilson, Maggie Perez and Jaylee Cantu — offered her candy canes from behind a table. All first-time volunteers, the group touted a desire to give back to the community during the holiday season.
"Seeing people who are less fortunate makes us want to help them," Perez said. "Most of us have a lot more than they have. We just want to help make them happy."