In the end, the Grinch couldn't steal Christmas. Not in San Francisco.
A bunch of firefighters, taxi drivers, a pub owner, a fired Macy's Santa Claus and hundreds of other folks from across the Bay Area wouldn't let him.
Facing a shortfall of thousands of toys for the San Francisco Fire Department's annual toy drive for needy children earlier this week, people from across the region brought toys to fire stations on Christmas Eve, called Luxor Cabs to pick up gifts for free, or drove themselves to Lefty O'Doul's tavern to drop off presents.
They gave Tornado Makers, Hot Wheels, Barbies and rubber balls. Some kind soul donated an iPod Shuffle. The gifts were piled into bright red barrels for firefighters and volunteers to distribute to children this morning.
"I hadn't done anything good for Christmas this year," said Ken Wright, 57, of Castro Valley, who heard about the shortfall on TV Friday morning.
"My friend Harvey and I went to breakfast at 7 o'clock, and I said, 'You know what? We've got a mission this morning,' " Wright recounted.
The two men went to buy toys - two Tonka trucks, dolls and games like Mousetrap, Monopoly and Clue.
"A lady at the store helped us out," Wright said. "We have no idea what kids like these days."
His friend, Harvey Reed, 69, of San Leandro, gassed up his truck.
"This just sounded fun," said Reed, a driver with a whimsically curled mustache. "We were sitting at breakfast and he said, 'We're going to do something different today. ...We're going to San Francisco.' "
They called Wright's daughter, Angela Crawford, 29, who lives in the city, to join them at Lefty O'Doul's near Union Square.
"There are a lot of people out there who are just less fortunate than we are," said Wright, who owns an auto repair shop in San Leandro. "We're all lucky to have jobs."
The firefighters' toy program has relied on Lefty's for 10 years to help close any gaps in toy donations with a big push on Christmas Eve.
The city's firefighters distribute more than 200,000 toys to more than 40,000 disadvantaged children year-round. The biggest chunk is in December, when they dispense toys from a former firehouse at 1300 Third St. in Mission Bay for families that have requested them. Firefighters also distribute toys on Christmas in different neighborhoods.
Last year's haul at Lefty's was 9,000 toys. To top that, co-owner Nick Bovis said he would push until 1 a.m. Christmas morning. They hoped to get 15,000 toys in a day.
Of course, Bovis has a secret Christmas weapon: John "Santa John" Toomey, the popular Macy's Santa whom the department store fired this month for telling a mildly risque joke to an adult couple. Bovis promptly brought Santa John to his joint a block away.
"Who better to be the spokesperson for the toy drive than Santa?" Bovis said.
As another organizer fretted, two silver Mercedes zipped up and handed off toys to elves waiting curbside who looked suspiciously like firefighters.
Marianne Hartnett, 67, of Pacific Heights brought gifts to Lefty's in a worn but spirited 1971 Datsun 510.
"It's just to do something to feel good," Hartnett said. "They were short on gifts for 10- to 12-year-olds. ... So I got craft items. They can make their own bracelets; the other thing is to paint your own book bag."
Not that the Grinch didn't try to intervene.
John Lazar, president of Luxor Cabs, had offered his taxis to pick up toy donations. But when a Walgreens store on Kearny Street called with $300 worth of toys to donate, a parking officer ran off the cab as it waited in front of the store at 8:20 a.m. because there is no parking on the street until 9 a.m., Lazar said.
"They wouldn't let us pick them up," Lazar said. A cab went back after 9 a.m. to retrieve the donations, and calls continued to be brisk.
"Guys are sacrificing, but it's a good cause," Lazar said. "Just to see the smile on those kids' faces when they get a toy is phenomenal."
And there will be toys for all, assured firefighter Danny Gracia, 42.
"Nobody's been turned away, and nobody goes without," Gracia said. "We make it work one way or the other."
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