2011-12-01 / Community

Serving those who serve us

Congressman rounds up toys for military families
By Carissa Marsh


GIVING GAMES—U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly, right, tosses a basketball to district chief of staff Brian Miller while working with friends and volunteers at a gift-wrapping party on Saturday. The toys will be given to military families. 
IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers GIVING GAMES—U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly, right, tosses a basketball to district chief of staff Brian Miller while working with friends and volunteers at a gift-wrapping party on Saturday. The toys will be given to military families. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers With stacks of toys and filled gift bags arranged in neat rows, U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly’s garage looked like Santa’s workshop.

Gallegly (R-Camarillo) and his wife, Janice, opened their hilltop Simi Valley home to about 30 volunteers on Saturday. They formed an assembly line to pack red and green bags with a variety of toys and sporting goods that will be distributed to about 750 boys and girls.

The annual effort, called U.S. Rep. Elton Gallegly and Friends Operation Toy Drop, serves as a way to say thank you to the military families at Naval Base Ventura County, which includes Naval Air Station Point Mugu and the Seabees at Construction Battalion Center Port Hueneme.

“The target is to say thank you to the children and families of the active and activated military, many of whom are already deployed, will be deployed or have been deployed,” said the congressman, who is serving his 13th term representing the 24th District.

With many military children missing dads or moms who are serving overseas this holiday season, Gallegly and Friends hopes the gesture will bring comfort and let the families know their sacrifice is appreciated.

“Just wishing all those kids a wonderful Christmas, especially with their parents gone,” said Moorpark resident Myrna Vafee, a congressional aide for Gallegly. “Their parents are doing something for us, so I think it’s important to do what we can for them.”

Gallegly and his wife began the donations about nine years ago when Matilda Ahearn, founder of the Military Families Food Bank at Naval Base Ventura County, asked the Galleglys to donate 100 turkeys.

The couple answered the call, and in the years that followed donations of hams and potatoes were added. This is the fourth year the Galleglys have also given toys.

“It started years ago where we’d do turkeys and hams—just food. And then we thought it would be fun to have a toy,” Janice Gallegly said.

“He always saw the kids standing in line (for the food) with their parents and thought, wouldn’t it be nice to do something for them and make their Christmas special?” added the congressman’s district chief of staff Brian Miller, a Simi native who’s worked for Gallegly for 21 years.

“We started out giving a toy per child,” Miller said. “It’s just grown from there. Now we give bags of toys.”

This year, each bag is filled with about five toys, including sports balls, skateboards, scooters, remote-controlled cars, water pistols and board games.

The 3,500 toys were sorted into 750 bags. The Galleglys chose the toys with the help of their 10 grandchildren.

“Elton was out all Thanksgiving doing the sales. . . .” Janice Gallegly said. “We go through with five different carts, and all the grandkids go with us.”

The Galleglys’ 15-year-old granddaughter Savannah Payton, a sophomore at Moorpark High School, helped pack the presents.

“They’re pretty cool. Even better than last year,” she said.

Stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Walgreens and Dick’s Sporting Goods provide “substantial discounts” on the toys. The Galleglys also purchased a total of 500 bicycles, tricycles and battery-operated quads. Each child will receive a raffle ticket for a bike or a quad. Though there are fewer bicycles than gift bags, the congressman said every child who wanted a bike last year got one.

The Galleglys still contribute food, which will be distributed to the military families on Saturday.

Also on Dec. 3, Navy personnel will transport the bikes, trikes, quads and gift bags to the naval base. On Sunday afternoon the gifts will be presented with Santa Claus arriving from the North Pole on an Air Force C-130.

“The day of the event, it’s amazing, rewarding, to see the looks on the kids’ faces,” Janice Gallegly said.

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