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  • 'Miracle on 31st Street' has been helping kids since 1970


    Your donation to any of more than 200 organizations through the Employee Combined Appeal Program (ECAP) shows how much Pima County employees are committed to creating a brighter tomorrow for those in our community.

    Donations can be made online or employees may obtain a pledge card through their departmental coordinator or solicitor.
    Editor's Note: For the past few months, eScoop has been highlighting a local nonprofit as an example of a class of nonprofits that benefit from annual employee ECAP contributions, including those organizations that directly support County programs, operations or missions.

    Most people know the feeling of rushing to find the perfect gift before the holidays - a special item for that special someone.

    Now imagine trying to find gifts for 10,000 special someones and you can understand a bit of what Ramon Gonzales goes through every year.

    Gonzales, the founder of the annual “Miracle on 31st Street” toy giveaway, has since 1970 helped ensure many local children who might otherwise go without Christmas presents get something. toys

    The “Miracle” began with Gonzales’s family. Concerned that his nieces and nephews would not receive gifts, he used $125 of his own money to provide them.

    “It was going to be a one-shot deal, but the kids had so much fun they wanted to do it again. I said, ‘It’s OK,’ but what I didn’t know was they had invited other kids and before too long I had about 100 kids showing up. That started to get a little rough, and I had to think, ‘How am I going to do this?’ About the fifth year, I had to start asking for help.”

    He started by asking neighborhood businesses for donations of supplies for the celebration, whatever they were willing to provide.

    “Before I knew it, I had 500 kids and it’s just kept growing and growing and growing all these years,” Gonzales said.

    For the first 30 years, the giveaway took place at his home on 31st Street and Tenth Avenue in South Tucson and involved children from the one-square-mile city and surrounding neighborhoods. In subsequent years, Gonzales moved the operation first to Marana, then to the Tucson Rodeo Grounds and Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium. In 2011, the Pascua Yaqui Nation’s Casino del Sol offered to host the celebration in its AVA Amphitheater, where this year it is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 22, at 9 a.m. Other nonprofits previously featured in eScoop

    Community Food Bank
    United Way

    Parklands Foundation
    Interfaith Community Services
    MAMA Program
    Youth On Their Own

    Now retired from his job as a sheet metal worker, Gonzales has made his passion his primary focus. He takes no pay for his efforts. The gratitude he receives is all the reward he needs.

    “It’s a beautiful feeling to all the kids with big smiles when they open their presents. One thing that really gets me is when one of the mothers says, 'Thank you for what you’re doing' and they start crying,” Gonzales said. “It makes me feel like I’ve done something good. Because those kids are kids only once. I don’t care if they are white, black, blue, polka dotted or whatever religion. Whatever they are, as long as they stand in that line they’re going to get something to eat, something to drink and they’re going to get their toy.”

    Gonzales’s generosity definitely makes an impression on the children. It did on Larry Gonzales, who stood in line as a boy and now serves as a member of the Miracle on 31st Street Board of Directors.

    “I stood on line every year from age 5 until I was 12 and I’ve never forgotten the experience,” Larry Gonzales said. “It’s a beautiful thing Ramon does. It’s a blessing for me to now help the same thing happen for these children. It’s the true spirit of Christmas.”

    The “Miracle” has become something of a family business. All five of Gonzales’s children participate in organizing the collections, logistics and planning with youngest son, Manuel, serving as his father’s right hand.

    “We just do whatever we have to do. Whatever our father needs,” said Manuel Gonzales. “All the work we do makes us pretty tired but it makes us feel good to help.”

    An unexpected side-effect of Gonzales’s work was that his own family never celebrates Christmas out of concern that it might appear the effort is an attempt to elicit presents for themselves.

    The only Christmas gift the Gonzales children really remember receiving was a custom-built four-seat, tricycle that required them to pedal together to get around.

    Last year, 54 ECAP donors contributed $638 to the “Miracle on 31st Street.” Gonzales estimates the production costs about $10,000, which requires a great deal of community involvement.

    A number of local businesses invite Gonzales to place collection boxes on their premises. Local PetSmart stores provide hundreds of stuffed animals which Gonzales gives out along with the gifts. Dozens of donated bicycles are given away in drawings during the celebration.

    Gonzales also gets help from local car clubs who collect donations and money by hosting an annual car show, scheduled this year for Dec. 15 at Cactus Bowl, 3665 S. 16th Ave. The Regional Transportation Authority plans a “Fill the Streetcar” collection drive from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Sun Link operations and maintenance facility, 360 E. 8th St. Locally-owned pest control giant Truly Nolen hosted a collection drive Nov. 10.

    Setting up for the event requires an army of volunteers who descend on AVA the day before to load in hundreds of pounds of food and candy to be given away and preparing the spot where Santa will hand out the goodies.

    Photo credit: Miracle on 31st StreetWhen the day arrives, families from all over Pima County line up early. Many arrive hours in advance. The festivities begin with the arrival of a caravan of dozens of custom and law enforcement vehicles that escort Santa Claus, and the Grinch, from the Rodeo Grounds to AVA. After the procession, St. Nick takes his place and one-by-one greets each child. In addition to a present, children receive a brown bag containing sweets, peanuts and pieces of fruit. 

    Music from Mariachi Los Changuitos Feos, other local acts and deejays and food add to the festive atmosphere. Silver Saddle Steakhouse has catered the celebration - providing free hot dogs and drinks - for 35 years. Balloon animal artists, face painters and clowns provide entertainment.

    Even after so many years and with so many faces coming through the doors, some youngsters stand out in Gonzales’s memory.

    “There used to be a little girl who used to come out. She was paraplegic. Every time I’d try to give her some nice toys. She had this big smile. She couldn’t talk but you could tell she appreciated what she was given.”

    The day ends with the entire stockpile depleted. Gonzales said that’s the goal.

    “From the very beginning until last year, we have never, never left one kid without a toy,” said Gonzales.

    Every donated toy will go to a child in need. Toys can be dropped off Gonzales’ home at 2019 W. Ajo Way. 

    The 2018-2019 ECAP campaign kicked off Sept. 19. Donations may be made online. For more information or to join the ECAP Committee, contact Committee Chair Ray Velez by phone, 520-724-4489, or email. Also, check out the ECAP Intranet page.
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