The event followed the free breakfast program, which is held on Saturday mornings at Hope's Corner, located downtown in Trinity United Methodist Church at the corner of Hope and Mercy streets.
"I'm homeless so my kids can have a place to live," said the veteran, who gave his name as Charlie. He said that without the program, he wouldn't have been able to provide any gifts for his daughters, 11 and 20, who share a room in Sunnyvale, with Charlie's Social Security payment helping to pay the rent. Unable to work and still battling the military for his retirement benefits, he sleeps in his car. When his 11-year-old daughter was asked what their situation was like, she simply said, "sad."
Saturday was a break from such harsh realities for the dozens of kids who gathered in the church's meeting hall, where they took photos with Santa and were treated to plates of cookies and brownies. They worked on Christmas ornaments and other crafts with help from a local Girl Scout troop, which had also collected donated gifts for the kids.
"People will have a better Christmas as a result of this," said Leslie Carmichael, chair of the board for Hope's Corner. "Because of the Hope's Corner breakfast programs, we know there are a lot of people here who struggle making their rent payment."
In the church's basement hallway, parents picked out five gifts for each child and brought them to a room where wrapping paper had been laid out. There was a raffle for a limited number of children's bikes, donated by the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition's bike exchange program. "They take donated bikes and fix them up," Carmichael said. "We've got 20 bikes and four tricycles."
"It's perfect for a 4-year-old," said a volunteer as she helped one of the parents, who had her eye on an older kid's bike with chrome wheels and a banana seat. Mother Mytzy Coss happily picked out a small pink bike with training wheels while holding her young daughter, who will be able to ride it soon, though an older niece will probably be enjoying it first. "It's helpful because we don't have a lot of money," she said.
Eloisa Garcia had picked out gifts for her two children, 13 and 11. She and her husband are laborers at Mountain View's Day Worker Center, where they pick up whatever work they can get — often cleaning houses or doing landscaping — to pay the rent for the one-room unit the whole family shares in Mountain View.
Garcia said the donated gifts would allow her to "focus on having a nice Christmas dinner."