Sunday, December 18, 2005

Taking Wraps Off Good Side of Compton


Sunday December 18, 2005

Taking Wraps Off Good Side of Compton
* A toy giveaway brings cheer to 3,000 kids. Nearby, 220 guns are turned in to deputies.

By Steven Barrie-Anthony, Times Staff Writer

Thousands of kids stood in line Saturday morning and afternoon outside Compton City Hall, tugging on their parents and daydreaming of presents.

"I want clothes for winter and summer," said Terrel Hyder, 12. "And I want a job and a drum."

His mother, Valerie Singleton, smiled.

"We don't have any money, nothing," said the in-home caregiver, who recently was laid off. "Without this, my four kids wouldn't get anything."

Like Singleton, many of the parents who gathered at this third annual Winter Wonderland Giveaway, organized by Councilwoman Barbara Calhoun and sponsored by the city, expressed relief that in this time of giving, their kids would feel included.

"I used to buy presents in September," said Renee Siguas, standing alongside two of her four children. "But I was laid off from Vons, and now I have to spend all my money on groceries. My daughter Rosa wants a flying Barbie."

Throughout the day, about 5,000 toys donated by retailers and local businesses were distributed among nearly 3,000 kids, said Councilman Isadore Hall. Only Compton residents ages 16 or younger were eligible for the giveaway.

After waiting in line for an hour or more, each family was welcomed into the foyer of the converted City Council chambers, where a jolly volunteer led them in singing Christmas carols of their choosing.

Few had time to finish their songs, however. Soon they were rushed through a door into the inner sanctum, a room brimming with punching bags, dolls, videogames, bicycles and unopened boxes, and manned by dozens of harried volunteers.

Somebody would yell out a kid's age and gender -- "Boy! 12!" -- and in seconds a volunteer would thrust two age-specific presents into the hands of each wide-eyed child. The exit was clogged by gleeful children, hugging toys to their chests, too stunned by their good fortune to move their feet.

It's this image of community and generosity that should represent Compton, Hall said. Compton, which has the highest homicide rate in Los Angeles County, "gets a bad rap because of all the shootings," he said. "But we're working very hard to try and turn that around."

Indeed, at a shopping center just blocks from City Hall, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department was conducting another sort of giveaway, dubbed "Gifts for Guns." Anyone who showed up with a gun was allowed to trade it in for a $100 gift certificate to Ralphs, Toys-R-Us or Circuit City with no questions asked.

At the end of the day the department had collected more than 220 guns, said Sheriff's Capt. Eric K. Hamilton.

"We did exceptionally well," he said. "We had so many people lining up that we ran out of certificates, so we had to ask City Hall and the Sheriff's Department to provide extra funds. People turned in all sorts of guns: assault weapons, Uzis, shotguns. Each gun taken off the street can mean the difference between life and death."

Back at Winter Wonderland, Juan Caldera, 7, waited in tense anticipation. He was excited about presents, sure, but even more exciting was the prospect of playing in the snow that organizers had spread on a cordoned-off portion of Compton Avenue.

"I've never touched snow before," Juan said, lugging a new football and videogamewhile leading his mother, brother and two sisters in the direction of flying snowballs.

When he finally touched snow, he leapt back for a moment, and ran to the fence to tell his mother, "It's cold!" Then he galloped off to pelt his oldest sister.

No comments: