San Fernando Police Chief Tony Vairo (second from right) and NEVHC representative Kurt Cabrera-Miller (right) join Santa Claus in presenting toys at the San Fernando Health Center.

By Mike Terry

Sun Contributing Writer

The line outside the San Fernando Health Center was long, curling a third of the way into the parking lot, and in it stood groups of happy children and their parents.

Erica Ramirez waited patiently with her three kids. So did Miguel Suarez, with his son and daughter. The reward for their patience: their kids would get to see Santa Claus and receive a Christmas toy — perhaps a doll, or car or something else. There would also be a hug.

More than 140 toys were handed out at the health center on Tuesday, Dec. 8, toys donated from various local partners including the San Fernando Police Department, the Sylmar restaurant El Tarasco, and Care1st Health plan. It was the first of seven toy giveaways the Northeast Valley Health Corporation (NEVHC) will do the next two weeks as part of its 19th annual Toy Drive & Santa Visits Program.

Although the health center sees an average of 9,500 patients, the toys giveaway was restricted to children ages newborn to 10-years-old.

Other stops included the Van Nuys Pediatric Health & WIC Center on Wednesday, Dec. 9, where more than 200 toys were donated by Valley Presbyterian Hospital employees — and health centers in Canoga Park, Sun Valley and Pacoima.

More than 1,000 toys will be given out the next two weeks, a NEVHC spokesman said.

“I’m very pleased that we will once again be able to bring smiles to the faces of our youngest patients,” said NEVHC CEO Kim Ward. “We are thankful for all the toy donations from our elected officials, corporate partners, community and employees. It is through their generosity that we have been able to do this for nearly two decades.”

For some of the patients, this might be the only toys their families will receive this year.

Ramirez and Suarez, both San Fernando residents, aren’t necessarily in that situation. But both have been coming to the toys giveaway for several years now, and are grateful for what their children receive.

“It means a lot because the kids love toys,” Suarez said. “Not only do they love them, they [already] get to play with them. For them to give back, it’s a good thing. “

“They always give good toys,” Ramirez said, though an interpreter.

Other local toy giveaways to come:

— Canoga Park Health Center, Dec. 11;

— Sun Valley Health Center, Dec. 15;

— Pacoima Health Center, Dec. 18.