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Santa’s Sleigh Foundation Brightens Season for Families in Need

HELPING OUT: From left to right: Norwalk Sheriff's Commander Pat Maxwell, Norwalk Councilman Luigi Vernola, founder of the Santa's Sleigh Foundation, former Pico Rivera Mayor Gracie Gallegos, and newly elected State Senator Tony Mendoza with his son Antonio, Jr. In the background is the donated toy station and the hundreds of bags of food for families in need. Photo by Brian Hews.

HELPING OUT: From left to right: Norwalk Sheriff’s Commander Pat Maxwell, Norwalk Councilman Luigi Vernola, founder of the Santa’s Sleigh Foundation, former Pico Rivera Mayor Gracie Gallegos, and newly elected State Senator Tony Mendoza with his son Antonio, Jr. In the background is the donated toy station and the hundreds of bags of food for families in need. Photo by Brian Hews.

 

By Brian Hews

Over 1,000 people traveled to Norwalk this past Saturday to participate in the annual food and toy giveaway organized by the Santa’s Sleigh Foundation.

Santa’s Sleigh Foundation is a 501c3 founded by Norwalk Councilman Luigi Vernola and Frank Napolitano, husband of congresswoman Grace Napolitano. The foundation has been holding this event for over 20 years.

It all starts months earlier when the foundation asks local churches, school districts, social services, and various cities for names of those families who are really in need.

“We send out letters to 500 people every year,” Vernola told HMG-CN, “the letter has a number on it and they check in to get their food and gifts. After they are done, we let other people in until everything is gone.”

Most of the families who attend could not afford toys, so if it were not for the Santa’s Sleigh event, their children would go without toys on Christmas.

“This event is tremendous,” one parent said, “if not for this event, I wouldn’t have had been able to buy my family presents.”

Families were able to pick a bag of grocery staples, a frozen turkey, and then their children were allowed to handpick two toys from several tables set up at the facility.

The toys ranged in age appropriateness from 2 -10 years old.

Vernola personally goes out to choose and pay for all the gifts and the Santa’s Sleigh foundation, along with several other organizations, provide additional food and other items.

His family, in-laws, grandchildren and friends also help out at the event, headed by his daughter Lisa who checked families in and helped pack the food bags along with former Pico Rivera Mayor Gracie Gallegos, her sister Lisa Gallegos-Renteria and Marlene Medina.

Young Explorers, the LA County Fire Department, Norwalk Public Safety, Northgate Market, and Vernola’s own employees also pitch in to help.

But Vernola’s charity doesn’t stop at the annual event.

For three weeks prior to Christmas, Vernola and his foundation travel around Norwalk in a makeshift sleigh stopping at homes and handing out gifts to families in need.

That is a lot of fun too, we dress up and travel all around Norwalk visiting families in need, to see the kids faces light up when we pull up is really special,” Vernola said.

He continued, “all I am hoping to do is change the attitude of some of these kids and parents, if I can do that then I have accomplished my goal.”