Help at the holidays: BART employee toy drive benefits Mission Neighborhood Centers


Help at the holidays: BART employee toy drive benefits Mission Neighborhood Centers

2019 Toy Drive

Nearly 1,000 toys and more than $2,500 in gift cards were presented today to Mission Neighborhood Centers, Inc. at the BART Board of Directors meeting.

A boy folds a paper airplane as a girl makes art out of colored beads

BART Senior Web Producer

It’s right after lunch and the younger children have been picked up from their schools by staff and ferried to the Precita Valley Community Center, a building with deep roots in the Mission District of San Francisco. Precita was established in 1922 on land donated by the San Francisco Unified School District and built by volunteers committed to deterring gang violence that was rampant between recent Italian and Irish immigrants.

It’s just one program under the umbrella of Mission Neighborhood Centers Inc. (MNC), which incorporated Precita into its youth programs in 1959, and is the recipient of this year’s BART employee toy drive. (See image below right of façade of building)

Facade of Precita buildingMNC delivers culturally sensitive, multi-generational, community-based services focused on low-income families. Its mission states that MNC develops and promotes leadership skills that empower families to build strong, healthy and vibrant neighborhoods. “Our agency has historically always served recently immigrated populations” said Edward “Teddie” Honey, Precita site coordinator.

“MNC has kept the same focus on these underresourced populations even as the countries they leave may change over time. In the early 1900s it was Italian and Irish communities; now it’s primarily Latino. Since we provide everything from HeadStart to senior programs, we like to say that we provide ‘cradle to rocking chair’ services. There’s a continuity there.”

One recent Wednesday, it was not so much the cradle as the controlled chaos of grade-school youngsters. They roared into the gymnasium ready to fly paper airplanes, make art out of beads or take a favorite book to a reading nook. “We provide programs for underserved youth and emphasize access for their education,” he said. The demographics for the Precita center clientele are 57% boys and 43% girls, and about 11% African-American, 5% Asian, 7% Pacific Islander, 1% white, 11% multiracial, 24% Hispanic/Latino and 43% not stated. Younger kids play games, eat healthy snacks and read books. Older students go on college field trips. They learn vocational skills such as culinary education, in a gleaming kitchen where they learn about safe food handling, the rituals of fine dining establishments and how to handle interviews and more.

But many of these youth and their families experience hard times at the holidays. The culture shown in the media surrounding the holidays are only applicable for some people,” Honey said.

“If those things don’t happen for a child, like getting a stack of present sunder a tree, or even just having a tree, it can be a painful experience for that young person who feels they’re missing out, and also for the parents who can’t provide the experience they would like for their families. If we can alleviate the parents’ financial stress over buying toys, they can spend their available funds on food, bills and other expenses they may be worried about, while still providing joyous holidays for their children.”

In the large gym where the kids were running around, one little girl named Julie was deep into reading a book. She couldn’t think of a gift to ask for, on the spot.

But she showed off a delicate golden necklace she wears in memory of her abuelo, or grandfather, and talked about how her family celebrated his life with an altar or ofrenda in his honor for the recent Dia de Muertos holiday. Finally, after some thought, she said she would ask for books and a jewelry-making kit.

Girl reading book Artichoke plants are among the food items being grown in the backyard garden Honey has made the center a labor of love, overseeing building of a terraced outdoor garden where children can grow food for the culinary program, or just enjoy the peaceful oasis amid the hustle and bustle of the city. When it’s nearly time for older kids to get out of school, Honey picks up a group from Mission Girls, the program for older girls, and takes them to a senior citizen program, also run by Mission Neighborhood Centers, for an intergenerational cooking activity. The older cooks, alternating between Spanish and English, explained they were making quesadillas, but with a healthy twist.

“What usually goes in your quesadilla?” one woman asked. “Frijoles y queso,” beans and cheese, a girl responds. For this activity, they’re using whole wheat tortillas with not only beans and cheese, but lots of veggies, too – spinach, bell peppers, sweet corn and more. Paola, who has been coming to programs here since third grade, said she enjoys the bonds she’s made at Mission Girls. She thinks she might like to be a pediatrician when she grows up, or a teacher.

“Mission Girls is a sisterhood,” she said. “You can make friends and also focus on teamwork.” They have a teen jobs program – the Young Queens – and a program focusing on history and culture called Raices, or roots. The demographic makeup for Mission Girls mirrors that of Precita, except it is only for girls and female-identifying clients, into young adulthood. “Once a Mission Girl, always a Mission Girl,” Paola said.

Meanwhile the tias and abuelas shouted out, “Gracias, Chicas!” as the girls helped with the cleanup. Gloria Dominquez, the site coordinator for Mission Girls, said how proud she is to be a part of the Mission Neighborhood Centers. “I’ve seen how much it means to the girls,” she said.

“These programs open up their eyes to a world of opportunity. Whether it’s doing homework, learning about nutrition, or having quiet time, they can do it all here. They’re young enough they still want to play and have fun, too.”

A multigenerational healthy cooking exercise
A mulitgenerational healthy cooking exercise that Mission Girls students participate in along with senior citizens

The gifts will be presented to representatives of Mission Neighborhood Centers at the Dec. 19 meeting of the BART Board of Directors; BART Police will deliver the presents from Oakland to San Francisco later that day

HOW YOU CAN HELP • If you'd like to join BART employees by helping Mission Neighborhood Centers at the holidays, visit their website for information on how to contribute directly. You can watch a video about the Mission Neighborhood Centers here.