San Francisco, CA - Academy of Art University and several of its athletic teams recently joined the San Francisco Firefighters Local 798 in bringing joy to children this holiday season with the Local's annual Toy Program.
Members of the Urban Knight men and women's golf, women's soccer, women's volleyball, and women's tennis teams all collaborated in the campaign, assisting with the extensive toy distribution process from “Santa's Workshop” (2225 Jerrold Street) to youngsters in every neighborhood across the city of San Francisco.
“I think toy drives during the holidays are an excellent idea,” women's soccer defender Sophie Meneses said. “It's important for everyone to be able to enjoy the magic. It felt really good to help out people in need. I would definitely volunteer for something like this again.”
In November, a new partnership between the San Francisco Firefighters Local 798 and Academy of Art University was announced surrounding the Toy Program for this year.
One of the first orders of business was to set up a place to house the numerous toys collected by Local 798 and ART U.
After the firefighters' previous longstanding location became unavailable, Academy of Art offered its Jerrold Street facility as the Toy Program's new headquarters.
The Urban Knights then joined many other Academy faculty and staff donating their time to help collect, sort and pack various toys and items in early December.
“This was the first opportunity I've had to volunteer with the men and women's golf teams at Academy of Art,” head golf coach Cheryl Lala said. “For that reason alone, it was a memorable experience. Once I saw the magnitude of work done by the Firefighters Toy Program, I felt humbled and privileged to help in a small way. Everyone at 2229 Jerrold works extremely hard to make sure every detail is accounted for and the drive runs smooth. It was overwhelming to see the amount of work they do every day to serve families in need. The players embraced the mission of the Firefighters Toy Program and served with 100% effort. I felt extremely proud of them and the work they did in this event.”
The athletics teams paired up to provide support on separate days during this event which will continue until the start of the next year.
The first day brought ART U men's golf, women's golf, and women's tennis together while this past Sunday was the women's soccer and women's volleyball teams' turn.
After being given a gender and age, the athletes were instructed to collect toys appropriate for that particular combination.
“It was a great experience to be able to help with the Toy Program,” women's soccer assistant coach Chelsea Davissaid. “Everyone was in great spirits and it was a wonderful feeling to be with the team helping others in need. It was a humbling way to spend a Sunday afternoon!”
“I honestly had so much fun volunteering at the Toy Program,” women's golfer Lyra Yoe said. “I've been involved in a lot of volunteer work at a young age, and I've always felt the satisfaction that I have achieved something not only for myself but also for those who have benefited from my work. It's a way I give back to the community and help those in need. I'm also glad that we and the tennis team were volunteering in the event together. It was a great way for us to meet athletes in the other teams and get to know them better. Overall, I really enjoyed the experience and would love to do it again.”
By hand-picking the toys and organizing them throughout the massive storage area, the Knights were able to provide their own personal touch at the event. A merry group of Academy of Art athletes also stuffed countless bags with toys which could then be ready for distribution to the neighborhoods.
Many Urban Knights described the process as particularly rewarding given the anticipation of so many happy families this holiday season.
“The experience of volunteering for the Toy Program was a good one,” men's golfer Stuart Favretto said. “Being able to spend some time with teammates along with other athletes was pretty cool because I don't really get the opportunity to do that very often and the fact that we were together for a good cause was nice. I thought helping out the less fortunate families by volunteering at this event was an important thing to do and I was glad that I could lend some of my time to help out with everything they have to do to get the toys ready for the families.”
The Firefighters Toy Program is the San Francisco's largest, and the nation's oldest program, of its kind.
The Toy Program was established as a volunteer organization just 20 years after the Academy of Art University was founded in 1929. It is sponsored by Local 798 and run by off-duty and retired firefighters as well as their families. Since its inception, the program has distributed more than 300,000 toys to over 40,000 children every year in every neighborhood in San Francisco.
“The Toy Program was a great thing to do to give back the community,” women's tennis player Diane Phan said. “When I saw that so many people were involved, I felt like the whole community came together and was involved in one great cause. The fact that they raise over 300,000 toys was amazing to me. And they were real quality toys that I wish that I had when I was a kid. It was great to know that these toys would be given to kids who really deserved them. It was like you were in a toy shop and you were the Santa.”
“This event made me realize how much I have and much I take for granted daily,” Lala said. “Through the Toy Program, I was able to stop and reflect on the community, and find ways to contribute more to our community. Through giving back, I feel that our team bonded more. It was very nice to see a smile on everyone's faces!”
In addition to helping individual families in need, the Toy Program serves many community organizations, including shelters for abused women and children, inner-city schools, neighborhood groups, children's cancer wards and pediatric AIDS units. The program also responds on a year-round basis to displaced children who become victims of fires, floods and other disasters.
"The Firefighters Toy Program was such a fun experience," assistant women's volleyball coach Ali Tyson-Taufoou said. "Not only did it bring us closer as a team, but we were able to give back to the community. We look forward to doing this on an annual basis."
“I had a great time doing my part for the community and the kids by helping out with the Toy Program,” women's soccer goalkeeper Jessica Bibby said. “It felt like an Urban Knight family effort to try and give some deserving children a nice Christmas.”
There are many more opportunities for supporting the Toy Program and volunteering your time. Please contact Sally A. Casazza at the Firefighters Toy Program at 415-777-0440 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more details about how to get involved.
For more information on the Academy of Art University in the Firefighters Toy Program, please click here.