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Kids in need receive gifts

Nonprofit holds event in which children receive shopping bags full of presents, ride a carousel and meet Santa Claus.

By Brianna Bailey

Updated: Saturday, December 6, 2008 9:23 PM PST

Climbing onto Santa’s lap Saturday morning at South Coast Plaza, the only thing 9-year-old Viviana Flores could think to ask for was a new book.

“Santa can pick one out for me, I don’t care which one,” Flores said, a fourth-grader at Davis Elementary School in Costa Mesa, as she clutched a red shopping bag almost as large as she was. The bag was full of gifts from the Costa Mesa-based nonprofit organization the Happiness Project.

Flores was one on about 250 children who got to meet Santa Claus, ride the carousel at South Coast Plaza and grab a bag full of toys, clothes and shoes Saturday as part of the Happiness Project’s Gifts of Love event.

“I liked riding the carousel; it’s so pretty,” Flores said.

In it’s second year, The Happiness Project’s Gifts of Love event provides presents and a bit of holiday cheer for local needy children. The two-year-old organization provides support to children living in homeless shelters in Orange County.

“Volunteering at shelters, I saw there was something missing and there wasn’t much being done for these children,” Lindsay Alderson said, executive director of the Happiness Project.

The Happiness Project began the Gifts of Love event last year, traveling to various homeless shelters with gifts for the children living there.

“A lot of the shelters said they got used clothes donations around the holidays and things like that, but nothing like this,” Alderson said.

Arika Sato, a Happiness Project volunteer at the Saturday event, escorted children through the line to meet Santa Claus.

“It was really inspirational to see the children get their gifts and see them laugh,” she said.

This year marked the first time the event was at South Coast Plaza. The idea was to make the day special for the children, Alderson said.

“We wanted to make it a wonderful experience for the children, because many of these kids don’t get a Christmas,” Alderson said. “It’s important for them to just have some normal experiences that other kids have.”

Many of the children at the Gifts of Love event Saturday were nominated by teachers, who picked out students they thought were most in need of some help during the holidays.

The event took about 8 months to plan and organized, said Craig Dickhout, who co-founded the Happiness Project with Alderson.

“Just seeing the kids faces light up is all worth it,” Dickhout said.

One young girl who attended Saturday’s event told Santa Claus she wanted a stuffed bear for Christmas — a gift that was included in one of the donated gift bags the girl was set to receive.

“When she got the bear, she just got this big smile on her face and it really made me feel good to see that,” Dickhout said.

HOW TO HELP

Based in Costa Mesa, the Happiness Project helps Orange County Children who are homeless or living below the poverty line.

For more information or to make a donation, visit www.helpockids.org or call (949-642-3000

BRIANNA BAILEY may be reached at (714) 966-4625 or at brianna.bailey@latimes.com.

      

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Drustan Hardin carries a huge gift bag from the second annual gift giveaway at South Coast Plaza courtesy of The Happiness Project, a Costa Mesa-based charity that serves local homeless shelters and needy children.