By Nina Aghadjanian
Amid a dim holiday season, Treasure Little Children brought joy to Huntington Hospital’s pediatric patients by donating a bounty of gifts through the Pasadena Police Department Air Operations Section’s 15th annual Christmas toy drive, Operation Polar Wind.
Founded by Jules Marcogliese in 1998, TLC is a nonprofit organization that works with local social service agencies and churches to enrich the lives of low-income children in the San Gabriel Valley. For 20 years, it has played a huge role in lifting children’s spirits through its holiday celebration, in which nearly 300 kids and their families typically enjoy a lunch, music, games and gifts. The event has been a welcome respite for some young residents of Los Angeles County, where 24% of children live below the poverty line.
Due to COVID-19, TLC was forced to cancel the 2020 celebration, but its dedication to making local children feel special proved to be unwavering. In early December, TLC dropped off presents at the Pasadena police heliport, where Operation Polar Wind commences each year. Members of the Air Operations Section and the Foothill Air Support Team distributed the gifts to Huntington Hospital and Peace Over Violence, a domestic abuse prevention center.
“Every year, Pasadena Police Department’s Operation Polar Wind is such a meaningful event,” said Chief John Perez. “The joy and happiness it brings to the children in the pediatrics unit of Huntington Memorial Hospital is priceless, not only for them and their families, but for me and the rest of the men and women of the Pasadena Police Department. … I am appreciative of everyone who participates in this event.”
It costs TLC around $19,000 to throw the event, and two-thirds of that is spent solely on gifts. At a typical holiday party, Santa makes a surprise visit as kids get their faces painted, do arts and crafts and pick out a book they can take home. Then it’s time to open their meticulously assembled gift bags. Dolls, remote control cars, scooters and a bicycle raffle delight younger kids, and gift cards are raffled off for the teens. During the 2019 celebration at Maranatha High School, attendees were able to capture memories from the fun-filled day in a photo booth.
“We don’t know what goes on behind closed doors and the challenges that these little kids have or what their families are going through,” said John Cervenka, a TLC board member and resident of La Cañada Flintridge. “Seeing them open their presents is an amazing reminder of what our purpose is, which is to never have a child feel that they’re forgotten [or] that Christmas is for another child or another family. Christmas is for every child.”
TLC’s first holiday event, held at the Pasadena Humane Society, was for 35 children from Union Station Homeless Services, and the celebration grew bigger each year as word of its mission spread. Local businesses including the Pasadena Optimist Club, the Hat, Chapman Insurance Group and the Yes, Virginia Foundation sponsor the event, while about 70 local volunteers and the TLC board organize and operate it.
“To do something for them that takes their mind completely off of any kind of situation that they’re in and to bring that smile to their face is very gratifying. When you see that, sometimes it just brings tears to your eyes,” said TLC board President Vance Weisbruch, who has lived in Altadena for more than 20 years.
Though the nonprofit’s main event occurs in December, TLC’s generosity can be felt in the community year round. Committed to promoting altruism, personal responsibility and respect, the organization shares random acts of kindness with those who need educational assistance and daily essentials. TLC has no big sponsors and relies heavily on contributions from friends, but it always does what it can to lend a hand. In fact, every dollar it raises goes directly to helping low-income children and individuals in the community.
“We primarily help kids, but if any individuals come to us with a need and we have the money, we’ll say yes and help them with that,” said Weisbruch.
TLC once funded a new computer room, complete with computers and furniture, at the Union Station Euclid Villa. Additionally, it purchased bedroom furniture and mattresses for a family that was sleeping on the floor, helped local teachers pay for class supplies and contributed thousands of dollars toward Pasadena City College first-year students’ tuition.
“We’ve had situations where there are kids that have been working hard and they just need a little extra help. And so we are maybe a piece of their success puzzle. That’s our goal. What’s great is that we can create an opportunity for them to maybe create a vision for their life that they did not know was possible,” said Cervenka.
To support underserved children in financially challenged communities, visit treasurelittlechildren.org to learn how to get involved.