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.
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.
“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.
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.
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