By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Charity provides Christmas hope for children in need
Serena charity pic
Santa Claus hands out toys during charity Live for Hopes disbursement of toys at the Children's Crisis Center Verdas House in Turlock. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

Among the countless organizations that have made it their mission to better the lives of the less fortunate this holiday season is a new charity, Live for Hope, which completed its first successful toy drive on Friday.


Live for Hope founder Serena Essapour was inspired to start the charity in order to bring hope into more children’s lives.


“At the end of the day, life without hope is meaningless,” said Essapour. “I thought it would be a good idea to start an organization that gives children who are underprivileged someone to provide for them, regardless of what they’re going through.”


Since Nov. 24, Live for Hope has been collecting toys for children in the community through donation boxes placed at local businesses, like Jura’s Pizza Parlor and Vito’s Ristorante and Pizzeria. On each box, item-specific lists were displayed, derived from wish lists of the children to whom the toys were donated. In total, around 200 toys were donated over the course of a month.


“I can’t begin to tell you the outpouring of support and love from the community,” said Essapour. “The amount of toys donated has been absolutely amazing. It’s the most priceless feeling.”


Thanks to community donations, around 50 children at Verda’s House of the Children’s Crisis Center, Creative Alternatives, Inc. and Faith Living Recovery Home each were gifted four to six toys – a surplus of riches for children who typically receive much less on Christmas.


“They not only got what they wanted from their wish lists, but much more as well,” said Essapour.


Another large contributor to the success of Live for Hope’s toy drive was a monetary donation from Papiola Aghassi of Jura’s and her family. Aghassi’s brother, Walter, passed away last month, but in years past had always made it a mission to help out the less fortunate over the holidays. The donation to Live for Hope was made in his honor, said Aghassi, in lieu of purchasing flowers for his funeral.


“It’s just so special that we can make the children happy during Christmas and touch their lives,” said Aghassi. “Hopefully when they grow older, they will be able to touch other peoples’ lives as well.”

It is Essapour’s desire that Live for Hope continues to encourage the spirit of giving well beyond the holidays. She hopes to hold more toy drives in the future geared around other holidays, and host fun activities for the underserved children of the community to participate in. Essapour plans to also create long term, permanent relationships with different shelters in town to ensure that the organization is helping as many children as possible.

“Children are the future, and in my heart there’s no way I can look at a child’s eyes and see sadness,” she said. “Every child deserves hope.”

Mentorships and life coaching are also services that Essapour wishes to one day provide at Live for Hope. Though the organization is small, she said, all involved are “high achievers” and have a desire to better the lives of those around them – especially children.

Essapour understands the importance of life choices and their ongoing consequences. In 2007 Essapour, who at the time worked at the Turlock Journal, was arrested on allegations she used personal information of County Supervisor Jim DiMartini to open up credit card accounts and racked up more than $10,000 in charges. She was convicted of felony false impersonation, felony misuse of personal identifying information and felony grand theft and sentenced to 180 days in jail and three years probation.

“We all had to struggle and go through ups and downs to reach where we are, and we want to show that to them,” said Essapour. “Every hurdle can be surpassed.”

— Kristina Hacker contributed to this report.