SELMA – It takes a lot of coordination, generosity and volunteers to make Selma Cares’ annual food and toy drive happen every December but organizers say the community has again stepped up this year to make the holidays brighter for 550 families.

Bob Allen chairs the Selma Cares nonprofit and said this year 550 boxes of food and at least 900 toys for children younger than 10 were given out during the Dec. 16 distribution. The day before, a team of volunteers from a combination of Selma High clubs, local churches and civic groups gathered to organize all the donated foods and toys to prepare for the big day.

“We have the Interact Club, the Key Club, church organizations, Selma High sports team, Rotary and the Central Valley Lioness Lions were here,” Allen said that Saturday as families nominated by the school district lined up. This year, the Selma Police Officers Association provided the majority of the donated toys and more volunteers with the Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life took pictures of families with Santa (Roy Boyd) while the Men of Praise singers entertained by singing holiday music.

“Having that extra part to the food and toy giveaway is wonderful,” Allen said of the photos and live musical performance. “We’ve always had Santa, but now we have pictures with Santa.”

Allen said the one-day distribution takes the entire year to fundraise an estimated $14,000 and gather the other food donations, but seeing the smiles on the families’ faces made it worthwhile.

“We need to realize what this season’s about and this event does that for us. It’s not about what we receive during the year. It’s what we’re able to give to this community that we love a lot. The food basket is going to last them more than a day. It’s a lot of food and it’s really a community event.”

Volunteers helping distribute the food and toys also said they were glad to be able to help their neighbors.

Key Club adviser Teresa Wood ushered in families into one room where Tom and Angie Isaak organized family pictures with Santa.

Wood said while some of the children were a little hesitant to stand so close to Santa, others were excited.

“For some of them, it’s brand-new experience so we just try to help get their mind off Santa for a few seconds so we can get that picture. I love seeing their little eyes and their big smiles. It fills my heart with joy to be a part of it.”

Even more important, though, was the life lesson the high school volunteers were learning that day, she said.

“I think it’s important to help the high schoolers understand there are others who are less fortunate than themselves so they understand we need a spirit of giving all year round and especially during the holiday season.”

Once the photos printed, Police Explorer Dominic Fontanilla brought the photos to the families as they waited in line.

“We really enjoy it,” Tom Isaak said. “Angie takes the pictures and I run all the printers and make sure the inks get changed. It takes about two minutes for it to print and as the pictures come out, we hand them to a runner who takes them to the family. The families really appreciate it. Some will have every year up on their mantel so it’s definitely an important moment.”

Cynthia Perez was among staff members from the Selma Neighborhood Resource Center helping by loading shopping carts with sacks of potatoes as the families walked through the school dining hall.

“It feels really good to help. It’s a reminder of what this season’s really about. It’s not just buying and giving presents to your loved ones, but to people in need as well. It’s about giving back to the community you live in.”

Robin Preston handed out sacks of sugar while her husband, Alan Preston, handed out bags filled with apples. They’d heard about the volunteer opportunity through the justserve.org website.

“It’s a great opportunity to serve,” Robin Preston said. “It’s a little bit like what our savior did for us. We try and do something every year.”

Alan Preston said he’s volunteered with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Boy Scouts in previous years.

“It’s joyful. It adds joy to the Christmas season and it warms our hearts.”

Pat Neal, a retired accountant for the city, took over the toy section this year.

“It’s a lot of work and the Selma Police Officers Association actually provided all of this for us this year. The community really comes together to make this happen.”

Student volunteers helped organize the toys by age so the gifts could be quickly distributed as families exited the dining hall.

It’s so satisfying helping people. The kids are so excited about showing me their pictures with Santa Claus and I thought that was so cute.”

Selma High Interact Club Vice President Nizeth Salazar was among the dozens of students walking grocery carts of donations out to recipients’ cars that chilly morning.

“We started right after school yesterday. We were able to get everything organized and then after that it was just putting everything in the boxes,” Salazar said. “This year I’m pushing carts to the cars. It’s nice because you can talk with the families and the kids really like getting toys. Helping people makes you feel great. Even if it’s a small difference, it’s making these families’ Christmas better.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2427 or lbrown@selmaenterprise.com.