The Soboba Gives Back! Toy Drive began its annual philanthropic push to collect and distribute Christmas gifts to the neediest of children this holiday season. This atypical year, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has left many families with less earnings to provide toys for their kids. Soboba Foundation members are grateful that the Soboba Casino Resort is allowing them to help out the community by partnering with them again this year. Toy collections are being taken at the Event Center with SCR staff helping to make sure every toy is properly sanitized with a UV wand and that volunteers remain socially distanced.
The remaining days of the drive are Nov. 24 and Dec. 1 and 8 from 12 to 8 p.m. For each toy, valued at $20 or more, donors will receive a voucher for $40 in free slot play at the casino. There is a limit of one coupon per customer, per day. All visitors to the casino must be wearing an approved mask – no gaiters or bandanas are allowed – and have their temperature checked at the entrance. Floor signs direct guests to the toy drive at the east end of the facility.
Every donor was greeted with cheers and applause as they came in to drop of their carefully selected toys. Donna Banta and her daughter Christy Banta, both of Hemet, said they look forward to this event every year.
“We’ve been coming since it began,” Donna Banta said. “We do it to give toys for the kids. This is a really tough year and this program will help a lot.”
The pair said they often bring a boy-friendly toy one week and a girl-friendly toy the following week and try to make sure they are the newest toys that kids are wanting each year. On Nov. 10, they both brought in a Baby Yoda toy.
“We usually spend about two or three hours in the casino after we drop off the toys – it’s something we like to do together,” Christy Banta said.
All volunteers working at the donation stations wear masks and gloves and sit behind Plexiglass partitions. Each toy undergoes extreme sanitation, using a UVC LED handheld sanitizer, upon receipt and before it is stacked behind the check-in tables. The wand is portable and rechargeable with a 99.9% sterilization rating. The toys are then taken into a back room for sorting by another group of volunteers so they can be distributed to nonprofits that have requested to be included this year.
This is the first year that Hemet Unified School District has been able to join in the fun of the Soboba Gives Back! Toy Drive.
“We are so excited and grateful that Soboba has invited us to participate,” HUSD Public Information Officer Alexandrea Sponheim said. “Despite not having the opportunity to physically see our students, our school site staffs have done a wonderful job staying connected to our families. Between our Parent Liaisons, counselors, teachers and front office staff, they have been able to identify our families that are struggling and may need extra support.”
She said the toy distribution will take place drive-thru style, which the district has done with its meal distributions since the pandemic began.
“We feel extremely grateful that Soboba is providing toys to our families,” Sponheim said. “Our families have struggled a lot this year and we know that this will provide a much-needed bright spot in our families’ year. As a staff member, being a part of the distribution of toys will definitely be a highlight of my year!”
In the past, San Jacinto Unified School District has made a community tradition out of the much-appreciated toys provided from Soboba’s drive. The ever-popular “Unstuff the Bus” event had to be canceled this year due to the pandemic, but the district will still receive its share of toys to distribute to its neediest schoolchildren.
At the Nov. 10 SJUSD school board virtual meeting, the district recognized the Soboba Tribal Council and the Soboba Foundation for their generosity and support through the Soboba Turkey Giveaway, the Soboba Charity Golf Tournament and the Soboba Gives Back! Toy Drive as well as its generous support of the Hemet-San Jacinto Student of the Month Program, which is now in its eighth year.
“These are only a few of the programs Soboba supports on an annual basis but we want them to know we appreciate everything,” said Gale Hill, Executive Assistant to the Board of Trustees and Superintendent.
Sherry Smith, SJUSD Assistant Superintendent, Personnel Services said the crystal award being presented was a “super small token of our appreciation.”
“This is a recognition that is long, long overdue so I’m very excited that this evening we finally, with all of the crazy pandemic in our life, we are going to be able to recognize the continuous support and generosity that we receive from Soboba,” she said. “There are no words to describe how valued we feel and how fortunate that we have this partnership with (Soboba).”
She introduced the representatives of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians who attended the Zoom meeting. From Tribal Council: Chairman Isaiah Vivanco, Vice Chairwoman Geneva Mojado, Secretary Monica Herrera and Treasurer Sally Moreno-Ortiz and from Soboba Foundation: President Dondi Silvas, Vice President Jacob Briones and Treasurer Julie Parcero.
“All of these people are beyond special,” Smith said. “I have a list a mile long to talk about all the amazing things they are doing or have done for us. Even in these unprecedented times, Soboba has stepped up as they always do to help us give back to our families”
Vivanco said he appreciated the recognition and was honored to receive the award on behalf of the Tribe and said, “We don’t do these things for the accolades – we enjoy the partnerships we are able to create.”
Silvas said she is working with all the other volunteers at this year’s toy drive to make it a special year for all the kids in the community and said, “It is our pleasure to have such a strong relationship with San Jacinto Unified.”
For more information about the Soboba Gives Back! Toy Drive, please visit www.soboba.com.
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians