This is also the group's fourth year bringing Santa Claus to walk through the streets of Union City and Jersey City, with West New York being a new addition this year. Before, the toy distribution had only been made to day care centers and hospitals, but since the operation has grown, they have been able to expand to the avenues.
"This is my fourth year doing this, and while I'm still around, we will keep doing this," said Orlando Bru, coordinator for Un Grupo de Amigos.
Along with Bru, who originally started the toy drive among his other charitable work, organizing the program was a team effort by himself and his good friends Rosa Pinal, Antonio Ibarria, the Hon. Augustine Sanchez, and Bernardo Ugardel, among many others.
"I always felt that every child deserved the chance to see Santa Claus and take their picture with him," said Bru. Bru remembers seeing children in high-end department stores being taken to see Santa, and realized that not everyone had that chance because of financial means. So, he decided that if those kids couldn't go to see Santa, he would bring him to them.
"It's marvelous to see the smile on the kids faces," said Bru. "They're more excited to see Santa, than about the toy itself."
Santa's coming to town
The toys that will be distributed are a combination of bought and donated toys. Un Grupo de Amigos was able to buy about 3,000, and the rest came from donations, giving them a total of 5,144 toys for the kids. This was 1,000 more than what they had acquired the year before. The group had sent out advertisements for donations with a Dec. 4 deadline. They encourage those who still have donations they would like to make to store the toys and contribute them to next year's drive.
"This year about 32 people made donations," said Bru. "We also have about 15 to 20 volunteers helping us."
The schedule for the toy distribution starts off on Dec. 15 with visits to day care centers around the area including The Growing Tree Learning Center, Little Folks Academy, Balseritas Day Care Centers, and the Union City Day Care Program. On Dec. 16, Bru and his friends will be stopping by Saint Mary's Hospital, Christ Hospital, and the Jersey City Medical Center.
"Two or three volunteers is all we need at the day care centers and the hospitals, because we only have one Santa at each place," said Bru. "The days we need the most volunteers is when we're walking through the streets."
On the weekend of Dec. 18, the group will be going up and down the streets of Union City, West New York, and Jersey City distributing toys to children. On Saturday, two Santas will be making the rounds in West New York, and two more will be in Union City covering the perimeter from 20th to 54th Streets.
"On the 18th we're going to start at 12 p.m., with two Santas at different points of 54th Street in West New York, and two coming from 20th Street in Union City," Bru said. "[We'll] continue until we meet at a central point. We won't stop until we run out of toys."
Along with the Santas will be a few volunteers traveling in a van waiting with more toys when the bag runs out.
"Groups of four to five people will be ready to refill the bags," said Bru.
On Sunday, Santa will be in Jersey City from morning to afternoon. He will be at Martin Luther King Plaza from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and walking the perimeter of Journal Square from 2 to 4 p.m. distributing the toys to all the children that come.
"It's incredible how many kids come, and they joy they have when Santa gives them a gift," said Bru. "They get a toy, and chance to tell Santa what else they want for Christmas."
The children who come to see Santa will also get a free picture with him.
Volunteers, contributors, and members of the Un Grupo de Amigos kicked off their Christmas 2004 Toy Drive with a breakfast at the Four Star Diner on Tuesday, Dec. 7, and a special appearance by Santa Claus who brought them their own little treat.
"I hope that next year we are all together like this again," said Bru. "On behalf of everyone, thank you."