In Downtown Long Beach, a church’s massive Christmas giveaway wrapped around the block

Pastor Wayne Chaney underestimated the crush of needy families that arrived at his sanctuary doors Sunday morning in Downtown Long Beach, but then again, this has been a year unlike any other.

They started lining up along Pine Avenue in the morning. By 1 p.m., when the doors to Antioch Church’s Christmas giveaway opened, the line wrapped all the way to The Promenade.

The distribution of toys, toiletries, furniture and other goods was scheduled to last until 4 p.m., Chaney said, but due to the high demand—especially for household goods—he drove to Big Lots to fill another truck to replenish—twice.

In the end, hundreds of families waited hours on the hot December afternoon for a chance to get free Christmas presents for relatives or necessities for their own home.

The line to enter the giveaway site extends from Pine Avenue, makes a turn on Third Street and, Pastor Wayne Chaney said, even reached up to Long Beach Boulevard at one point in the day in Downtown Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

A team of partners and about 30 volunteers led by Chaney distributed $150,000 worth of goods to Long Beach and many Los Angeles residents as part of their “Christmas in the City” event, according to the pastor.

“I don’t think that anyone in my lifetime has ever seen something like this,” he said about the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic. So, he wanted “to make sure that no one experienced a Christmas in the city without some sort of gift.”

If people in need missed this giveaway, Chaney said the church will continue to host them at least once a month until December 2021. He said the church can also deliver items to families in need, especially furniture, if people don’t have the means to pick up.

“We really want to take out all the barriers of them being serviced,” he said. An update on the ongoing giveaway schedule will come in January, he said. Today, he estimated a “couple thousand” people were served.

During the giveaway, there were plenty of toys, and volunteers roamed the line distributing them—along with water and raffle tickets for furniture—to families waiting.

Johni, 4, daughter of Latisha Gadin, holds a boxed toy for a portrait while she waits outside on Pine Avenue in Downtown Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

“I couldn’t let people stand in the hot sun and not have something for the parents when they got up there,” Chaney said.

Parents like Latisha Gadin were waiting in line since 11 a.m. She lives in a motel in LA with her three children after losing her job at an employment agency in Compton. Her 4-year-old daughter, Johni, was entranced by a small figurine a volunteer handed out to her.

Long Beach resident Eva Ponce, 65, stood near the end of the line at around 1:30 p.m. Before the pandemic, Ponce lost her job as a housekeeper in Long Beach. Now, she said, she doesn’t have enough money to buy anything for the five family members living with her. Any type of gift from Antioch would do.

“Whatever they give me is fine,” she said in Spanish.

Once people arrived at the front of the line, volunteers checked attendees’ temperatures, asked them to sanitize their hands and required that they wear masks to enter.

Inside, Chaney said that the facility’s usual capacity of 1,100 was reduced to about 60 people to also help maintain social distancing between volunteers and families.

Volunteers hand out a variety of household goods, including couches, to families in need during a giveaway in Downtown Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

Expectant mother Kiara Green, 31, came with her 5-year-old son, Kaleb, to get gifts for him and his cousins. Green, of Baldwin Hills, lost her job this year working at a group home for teens. While in line, a volunteer hollered to families to let them know they were giving out Christmas decorations. Her son overheard.

“I wanna decorate the house!” Kaleb excitedly told his mother.

“I’m praying to get the couch,” said West Long Beach resident Krystel Braxton, laughing. Her current one has holes in it, she said.

A little bit behind her in line stood 63-year-old Beverly Boyd, carefully receiving a small toy with her right hand as she held onto her walker with her left. The Downtown Long Beach resident, who just had knee-replacement surgery, hoped for a new bed, but was still happy to get toys for her five grandchildren.

“I thank God to be able to stand here today for them,” she said.

A volunteer picks out a boxed toy for a family during a giveaway in Downtown Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

Volunteers hand out personal hygiene products during a giveaway in Downtown Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

A boy lays his eyes upon a boxed “Lion King” toy just given to his parent during a giveaway in Downtown Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

A recipient carries new goods to a car in Downtown Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

A boy looks over to his family as he sits on the sidewalk to wait to enter the giveaway site on Pine Avenue in Downtown Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

A baby gapes at the lights that decorate the facility at 350 Pine Ave. during a giveaway in Downtown Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

A woman tilts her head as she inspects a household items being given away in Downtown Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

A woman gazes upon an art activity set during a giveaway in Downtown Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

Children take a nap on a bench as their family waits in line across the street in Downtown Long Beach on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2020. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

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Crystal Niebla is the West Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of her grant-funded position with the Post. If you want to support Crystal's work, you can donate to her Report For America position at lbpost.com/support.
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