“It was magical.”
The spirit of the holidays hovered over the South of Forest neighborhood last week, a testament to a community coming together. Even a day removed from the South of Forest Neighborhood Association’s (SOFNA) inaugural holiday toy drive on Dec. 13, the organizers couldn’t help but grin at how well it all worked out.
“We really didn’t know what to expect. Were we gonna get ten toys? Were we gonna get no toys?” said Cindy Baldanzi. “The reaction was just really wonderful. The people just came out. They loved it.”
It worked out better than anyone could have hoped.
“That was a funny thing while we were driving around, that we filled up and we had to stop,” said Ruth Norris, aka Mrs. Claus. “So, we had to stop at Tracy’s house and we had to stop at Keith and Deb’s house and just to offload all the toys.”
“It was beyond our wildest dream, I think,” said Debbie Benovitz, who was joined by her granddaughter Maddi.
“The bucket of the tractor was filled with toys and then the inside where Santa is, I don’t think Santa could move towards the end. But it was really a very rewarding thing for such a great cause. The community came together,” said Baldanzi.
What’s more, it brought neighbors together in the best way possible.
“One of the interesting things last night was people were coming out of houses where we’ve had very little contact,” said John Shores, who assumed the role of Santa Claus. “My wife and I walk the streets every day, all the streets of the neighborhood. And there are people I’ve never seen.”
“There was a door that would open with an elderly gentleman standing there…he had the light on…he was just standing in the door. I’d never seen him. I really didn’t know him,” recalled Baldanzi, who was dressed as The Grinch that night. “I walked up the walkway, I kind of reached my hand out and he shook my hand and he goes, ‘The Grinch is my favorite.’”
As the Grinch, Baldanzi was the most popular of the parade. In fact, her run in with the four-year-old grandson of a SOFNA resident said it all.
“We pulled over and he was standing there and she let go of his hand and he just ran at me and I picked him up. It was the cutest thing,” said Baldanzi. “So, he pulls his head back and he goes, ‘I just watched you on TV. I love you.’ Then he just latched on to my neck and was squeezing my neck. It was just it was so cute.”
The next day, Dec. 14, some of the members of SOFNA gathered again to donate the more than 160 toys collected. They dropped them off with the Santa Clara Fire Department for its annual toy distribution event. SOFNA members say it would not be possible without all of the people* involved, including the local firefighters at Fire Station 3, who joined the parade at the last minute.
The group says it’s already planning for next year’s toy drive and taking notes on how to make it even better.
*The SOFNA wanted to say thank you to John Shores (Santa), Ruth Norris (Mrs. Claus), Cindy Baldanzi (The Grinch), Tracie Johnson (an Elf), Keith and Debbie Bowman (Elves), Charleen Korfman (Elf), Doug Baldanzi (tractor driver), Royanna Gazlay (Elf), Tammy (Elf), Debbie Benovitz (Elf) and the firefighters of Fire Station 4.