For Ricki Lacy and her three children, this holiday season has brought the greatest gift of all.
After four years of homelessness and working through case management programs with the Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County, Lacy and her family will move into their new apartment this week thanks to help from CAPSLO and the Housing Authority.
“It’s just been so long,” Lacy said as her sons Anthony, 4, and Trey, 7, combed through a bag of gifts. “We’re excited but nervous to be getting our own place — right in time for Christmas.”
The news came as about 150 people — many CAPSLO clients, volunteers and some folks who have used the center’s services and returned Thursday to help Santa Claus deliver toys — gathered at the Prado Day Center for its annual holiday party. The morning was filled with food, gifts and goodwill.
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In a room next to the kitchen, three room-length tables were covered in gifts donated by members of the community: toys, children’s clothes, adult boots, backpacks and a healthy stack of sleeping bags and outdoor gear, many donated in the 24 hours leading up to the event.
One volunteer, Booker “Snoopster” Urista, had the choice task of helping kids pick out their favorite items from the piles of goodies. One boy, about 5 years old, excitedly grasped Urista by the hand as the two made their way toward the back tables, which overflowed with action figures and dolls, toy cars and walkie-talkie sets.
“Look at all these toys!” Urista exclaimed. “Go ahead, it’s all up to you, buddy.”
The boy’s wide eyes locked on a brand-new, large-sized, midnight-blue Hot Wheels Camaro, which he clutched to his chest as he looked up at Urista with an ear-to-ear grin.
“Man, that just made my day. That was incredible,” said Urista, who was a client at the Prado Day Center before finding permanent housing in Cambria. He said he still enjoys visiting the center to give back to those in need. “Today, it’s all about the kids. I like to come back here and help spread a little joy.”
In between overseeing meal service and the gift drive, Biz Steinberg, executive director of CAPSLO, said this year’s holiday party was a success largely thanks to the volunteers and the community for donating the items that made the gift-giving possible.
“Christmas is here at the Prado Day Center,” Steinberg said, holding back happy tears that had been flowing moments before. “The homeless children and families, veterans, the disabled, they all have a Christmas. Thank you so much.”
As children ran back to the dining tables to unwrap their new toys, a young girl serenaded the crowd with a rendition of “Jingle Bells.”
Ahead of what is expected to be an especially wet winter, CAPSLO is expanding its overnight warming center at the Prado building. The agency is in constant need of donated items such as sleeping bags, blankets and backpacks, as well as volunteers to help serve the overnight clients. For more information on needed items or volunteer shifts, contact Grace McIntosh at 291-1008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.