Community Spirit Fuels Toy Drive

First published in the Dec. 11 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

You would think, with only a couple of weeks until Christmas, that Santa would be far too busy for anything other than last-minute toy delivery preparations.
And yet, the jolly old elf found time to take a quick trip from the North Pole to attend the “Spirit of the Community Toy Drive” at Burbank’s Tequilas Cantina and Grill this past week.
The event, hosted by Tequilas’ owners Patricia and Carlos Rivera, the Burbank Chamber of Commerce and Family Promise of the Verdugos, saw a full house gather at the West Magnolia Boulevard restaurant.
As each attendee arrived, they added to a toy sack manned by Family Promise CEO Albert Hernandez before going on to spend some one-on-one time with Santa to tell him about their last-minute requests, and then to enjoy Tequilas’ authentic Mexican dishes.
“Carlos and I want to thank so many people for making this evening happen,” said Patricia Rivera, “beginning with the Tequilas’ family of employees who really made it possible.”
Rivera went on to tell the assemblage that, while their restaurant has backed a toy drive for the past 10 years, she has been doing this for a much longer time.
“While I have had the honor of being able to play a small role in seeing smiles put on kids’ faces when they get a Christmas toy for over 25 years, it is now different in that so many people of the Burbank community, the local restaurant community and the chamber of commerce have all come together to make this happen,” she said.

Photos by David Laurell / Burbank Leader
City Councilman Nick Schultz was enjoying last week’s toy drive with Family Promise board chairwoman Jessa Freemyer, and Jamie Keyser Thomas and Leslie Smith of the Burbank Chamber of Commerce.

Rivera made a special point of thanking the ownership of Burbank’s Romancing the Bean Café, Barragan’s Mexican Restaurant and the Morrison Restaurant for their participation. She also gave credit to Burbank Mayor Bob Frutos for playing a huge behind-the-scenes role in bringing the people and community entities together to stage this year’s toy drive.
“All of what you see happening here tonight, and what will result in the joy of many children on Christmas, is because of Mayor Frutos,” Rivera said. “We all owe him great thanks and are honored that he is with us this evening as one of his last events as mayor.”
Frutos, whose term will end this coming Monday, was honored for his service by Tequilas, Family Promise and the Chamber of Commerce. He told the gathering that while the evening was about many things, it was really only about one thing.
“This is about people of our community coming together to put smiles on children’s faces,” Frutos said. “It’s about what Tequilas and other restaurants have done for our community, even when they themselves have been so greatly challenged by the pandemic.”
Burbank Chamber of Commerce CEO Jamie Keyser Thomas explained that its message in participating in the toy drive is another part of what the chamber is doing to create a thriving Burbank.
“We are not just advocates of our city’s business community, but of every aspect of our community, and we are proud to be a part of this partnership that we see going on for many years to come with many different restaurants joining the partnership and hosting,” said Keyser Thomas.
Rounding out the slate of speakers who addressed last week’s festive event was Hernandez.

Albert Hernandez of Family Promise collected toys that will be distributed to children in the Family Promise program.

“Your presence here tonight makes you a part of our family at Family Promise,” Hernandez said. “You are a part of the journey our families are on to achieve independence as they go through a challenging time. Each one of you has played a part in bringing joy to them this Christmas, and on behalf of them, we thank you.”
Family Promise of the Verdugos is a nonprofit organization committed to helping homeless families achieve lasting independence. They provide safe shelter, meals and support services for homeless families with assistance from local church congregations and volunteers.
Among the notables in attendance at last week’s event were Burbank City Councilman Nick Schultz, former City Councilman Tim Murphy and his wife Gloria, Burbank Police Commissioner Romik Hacobian, Family Promise board chairwoman Jessa Freemyer, event committee member Leslie Smith, Emmy Award-winning journalist Lynette Romero of the KTLA 5 Morning News and her husband David Angulo, who own the Morrison Restaurant, and the Kiwanis Club of Burbank President Doug Chadwick, who, as the evening’s observant may have noticed, mysteriously disappeared during Santa’s appearance (wink, wink).

DAVID LAURELL may be reached by email at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.