F. Castro / SFVS

Alma Nava, Coordinator for the Vaughn Family and Community Center in Pacoima, shows some of the cars and dolls that are part of the new toy loan program launched this week at the site.

Basketballs, baseball gloves, trains, Legos, little cars, dolls, and perhaps some video games are some of the toys available to students that attend the five pre-K through 12 campuses in the Vaughn charter schools.

Today, Sept., 5, the school is previewing a toy loan program that initially will be exclusive to its more than 3,000 students.

“We decided to have this program because it’s a free program, which could benefit many families, and there’s not a lot of these programs in our communities,” said Alma Nava, coordinator for the Vaughn & Family and Community  Center in Pacoima, located across from the G3 campus.

The donated toys are available to all the children regardless of age or gender. The free program works in the same way as a public library. The children borrow toys once a week; once they return them, they can borrow another one.

To get a toy, Nava said, parents have to fill out an application “where they promise to take care of the borrowed toys.”

It’s preferable that the parents come with the children to borrow the toys since the scheduled hours for the program are from 12:45 p.m. to 2 p.m. every Tuesday after school, Nava added.

Students, parents and community members will get a glimpse of the toys during an open house today, beginning at 8:30 a.m., and students can begin borrowing the toys on Sept. 10.

A Growing Toy Loan Network

Vaughn’s program joins a growing network of toy loan centers spread throughout Los Angeles county. In fact, the Los Angeles Toy Loan program — which is part of the Department of Public Social Services — is the oldest and largest free service of its kind in the country, according to county officials.

The program was born in the midst of the Great Depression, when toys were not a priority for cash-strapped, low-income families. Currently there are approximately 45,000 toys in circulation, and the program services more than 30,000 kids a year at its 50 sites.

Toy Loan Centers are located in parks, recreation centers, and schools throughout Los Angeles county, from San Pedro to Santa Clarita. In addition to providing toys, these centers also provide a space for kids to engage in safe playtime twice a week, as many families don’t have backyards or nearby parks.

In the Northeast San Fernando Valley, there are toy loan programs established at the Los Angeles Mission College Child Development Center and Telfair Elementary, which last year became the infamous “poster child” for the issue of homeless students after several media outlets reported on the high percentage of children from the school who lacked a stabled roof over their heads.

The Telfair program is also exclusively for its students.

Playing and Learning

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.”

Besides the pure joy of playing, the idea behind the toy loan program goes beyond giving children a sample of toys to enjoy. It is meant to instill a sense of responsibility, patience and cooperation.

Responsibility because the children must take care of the toys and return them at their assigned time. Patience because sometimes they will surely have to wait for sought-after toys to become available. Cooperation because it’s a community effort where all children benefit from the same toy loan program.

They also learn that being a good citizen — as in returning the toys on time and undamaged — has its rewards. When the children return the toys on time and in good condition 20 times, they will get a new toy to keep permanently.

What happens if they don’t return a toy on time or they break it? Nava says the penalty is that they delay the new toy reward.

For now, the Vaughn program is only available to its students, although Nava said there is the possibility it will be extended it to the community at large in the future.

The Vaughn Toy Loan program officially kicks off Sept. 10 at 12:45 p.m. The toy loan program is located at the Vaughn Family and Community Center, 11201 Herrick Ave., in Pacoima.