Westside Ministries has helped Turlock kids in need of cheer during the holiday season for the past 35 years by providing them with a coat and a toy, and this year the nonprofit is hosting a car show in hopes that the community will provide more gifts than ever before.
Westside Ministries founder and director JoLynn DiGrazia said the organization wanted to welcome the community to a car show this year after years of support from the local lowrider community. Different lowrider car clubs have hosted toy drives for Westside Ministries over the years in the form of car shows, requiring only a donated toy from participants as the price of admission. The upcoming Westside Ministries Car Show & Toy Drive fundraiser will mimic that successful model, giving the entire community and their cars — lowrider or classic — the chance to participate in the event by donating a new toy.
“We try to make sure that every child gets one new thing, because for a majority of the children this is the only Christmas gift they’ll receive,” DiGrazia said. “It’s a time to say, ‘Someone cares about you, we see you, we acknowledge you and we want you to feel some love.’”
Westside Ministries is asking those who attend to donate what they can to the cause as well, whether it’s a toy, coat or monetary donation. The organization partners with Carr’s Cleaners every year to host its annual Coats 4 Kids drive, and the coats and toys collected at the car show will help keep children warm when they’re disbursed Dec. 17-20.
What originally began as a coat drive for Turlock students in need has evolved over the years, going from around 80 to 100 coats being donated in the event’s first year to the drive now receiving hundreds of coats annually. The event has now even grown to include children from southern Stanislaus County and northern Merced County, with cities and towns from Delhi to Ceres reaping the benefits of the charitable drive.
DiGrazia was inspired to create a coat drive after the tragic death of 11-year-old Becky Valencia — an attendee of Westside Ministries’ Bible Club for kids, whose lack of a winter coat led to a sickness she never recovered from. She would have turned 42 this year.
“We need to collect 2,000 toys and 2,000 jackets this year,” DiGrazia said, noting that 700 children have already signed up to receive a gift this year. She also hopes to raise $20,000 in order to buy new shoes and other clothing for the youth in need.
Until last year, the Turlock Post Office helped out with the collection of toys for the coat distribution event, picking them up from the doorsteps of community members who have decided to donate. In 2018, however, the postal service corporate headquarters deemed the practice unethical.
DiGrazia hopes that the car show will bring in the 2,000 toys the Turlock Post Office used to help collect.
“This will be one of the last times to donate because we’ll start handing out coats that Tuesday,” she said.
If community members are unable to make it to the car show but would still like to donate a coat, toy or money, they can drop off donations at Carr’s Cleaners, 500 E. Main St., or call Westside Ministries at 209-667-8593 for more information.
The Car Show & Toy Drive fundraiser will take place Dec. 14 in the Tractor Supply parking lot, 201 N. Walnut Rd. Cars check in from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., and judging will take place from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. From 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. awards will be handed out, and all the while entertainment and food will be on hand.