Volunteers and Play Grow Learn staff were up early Wednesday, Dec. 22, as they got ready to give out toys, food and other donated items to the people of East County.
The Sunrise Center in Rockwood was filled with stuffed bears, toys, games, arts supplies, action figures, and 70 bicycles of all shapes, sizes and colors as the local nonprofit organization worked to spread cheer during the holidays to families in need.
Play Grow Learn, a nonprofit organization through Beyond Black CDC, hosted its annual Gifts From the Heart drive that had 150 families in East Portland, Gresham, Rockwood and East Multnomah County receive gifts and food boxes for the holidays.
"This is all about bringing family together on the holidays," said Anthony Bradley, executive director of Play Grow Learn.
Gifts From the Heart was first launched in 2019, and has continued to grow each year even as the pandemic shut things down. This year the number of bikes, donated by partner Arrow Sanitary Service, more than tripled. The bicycles follow Play Grow Learn's primary mission of getting youths outdoors and active in their community.
"We want to continue expanding biking in East County as a health initiative," Bradley said.
In total the participating families received two to three gifts for each child, or a bike; stocking stuffers like mugs and chocolate; personal protection equipment; and a food box. There was rent assistance available for families thanks to partnerships with Home Forward, and Play Grow Learn connected people to other resources as needed.
Everything was distributed during the festival-like event that had a DJ, warm drinks like hot chocolate and free food.
Arrow Sanitary also gave Play Grow Learn a check for $4,000 to support its initiatives. Other partners in the gift event included KGW TV, River City Bicycles, Rockwood CDC, Sunrise Center, Greater New Hope Family Services, East County Health and the city of Gresham.
The food boxes had culturally specific items for the holidays — collard greens, cornbread, red beans and rice, and black-eyed peas. There were also kits to make red velvet cake, with Play Grow Learn encouraging families to bake together.
"Those are all traditional foods enjoyed by Black folks on the holidays," Bradley said.
Volunteers from around the county came to help create the food boxes including a group of young soccer player's from Gresham, Genesis Football Club.
Alondra Uicab was one of the young soccer players filling food boxes with bread, potatoes and other produce. "It has been really fun to help out," said Uicab. "We have been here since around 10 a.m. trying to help."
East County Community Health also had a booth where representatives were giving out disposable masks, hand sanitizer, cold weather clothes and offering COVID-19 vaccines and boosters.
"We will be providing vaccines and boosters for anyone who wants them all day," said Rosa Dominguez, administrative assistant at East County Health.
East County Community Health and Play, Grow, Learn also offered folks free Chick-fil-A sandwiches and drinks as they waited for their shots or food boxes.
Mathew Montgomery, Play, Grow, Learn's office manager, was in charge of signing up families for food boxes said that all of the food not donated to families that sign up will go to anyone who shows up to the facilities
Play Grow Learn
Learn more about the Rockwood-based nonprofit organization and all the initiatives it hosts year-round to support local youth on Facebook.
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