Shortly after 2 p.m., Radle called the first 22 shoppers to line up on the sidewalk outside the chain-linked gates. Among them was Ana Maria Torres, a 33-year-old mother of six sporting a black sweater and blue jeans. Torres was chatty and cheery with those around her.
“I’ve came here since I was little,” Torres said. “My mom would always send me here.”
Her mother died this year. Nonetheless, Torres was grateful to be back and able to shop for her children. She had already won a bicycle at the raffle, so the day was off to a great start.
Once Radle gave the go-ahead, the 22 shoppers walked single-file around the corner and entered the building through a side door. They found themselves in a cramped pink room with stockings overhead and a Christmas tree squeezed into the corner. Torres sat in the front row, facing a table where volunteers would verify whether or not she lived in the neighborhood.
After an overview of the rules and some light jokes from Richard Montez, ICD’s president of the Board of Directors, Torres handed her ID to a volunteer in exchange for a slip of paper to mark her purchases. She then entered another room where volunteers lined up with clipboards, ready to guide her and the others through the different sections of toys.
Weaving through a tiny corridor, Torres came upon a room stuffed to the brim with stuffed animals. There, she opted for a “big old teddy bear.” When combined with the bicycle she’d already won, the teddy bear made Torres very content about the day’s finds, and the rest of the sale went by so quickly that she was the first person to finish shopping.
As she stuffed the teddy bear, bicycle, and bag filled to the brim into the back of her truck, she did a little math and realized that she spent $33 on 13 toys.
“We had a rough year,” she said. “My mom passed away, so it’s been hard. But at least we got something and Inner City got to help us with it, you know. I mean, at least each kid will be getting something for Christmas.”
Such is the magic of ICD’s toy sale. Inscribed into the mission of Inner City Development, Patti Radle says, is “to lift the dignity of the individual.”
So, as Torres hopped into her truck and fired up the engine, it was the next group of shoppers’ turn, Torres’ neighbors, as they lined up on the sidewalk, eager to head in and kick off the holiday season with a little dignity and maybe a giant teddy bear.
This article was originally published by the H.E. Butt Foundation’s Folo Media initiative in 2017.