Soboba tribal member brings Christmas joy to local children

Phillip Basquez, right, is joined by family members and other volunteers during an annual toy giveaway event in San Jacinto, Wednesday, Dec. 22, including Johnna Valdez, left, and Lokelani, 10; Delos, 9; Brice, 5, and Giovanni, 13. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

SAN JACINTO – While many families were traveling to reach a destination away from home this Christmas season or preparing their homes with decorations, baked goods and wrapped presents, Phillip Basquez and his family spent Wednesday, Dec. 22, making sure lots of San Jacinto children got a new toy.

Basquez, a member of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, said he decided a couple of years ago to hold a toy giveaway event to provide for families that couldn’t afford much. Last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he knew many families were having a hard time and wanted to make sure children had a merry Christmas, he said.

This year, although things have improved for many, some families are struggling still, and Basquez and his family wanted to do what they could to help out.

“I just think giving back to the community is important; I grew up here,” Basquez, 34, said. “I feel each child deserves a gift.”

He set up a pop-up area near Regal Cinemas movie theater in San Jacinto three days before Christmas and posted the event on Instagram and Facebook, inviting the community to come with their children. Those who saw the post shared with others, and there was a long line already in place when the giveaway officially began at noon.

With the help of his friends and family, including his son Delos, daughter Lokelani and his mother Johnna Valdez, Basquez gave away more than 300 toys. Everyone adhered to safety protocols as only one family at a time was allowed to view all the toys displayed on multiple tables. Each child in the family could choose the toy they wanted. There were dolls, trucks, stuffed animals and much more. It was like shopping in a toy store, only the gifts were free to the children, he said.

“The first year I bought all the toys, and last year we bought the majority of them but friends that liked what we were doing donated toys too,” Basquez said.

This year, Valdez was included on the recipient list of the Soboba Gives Back! Toy Drive, which provided 150 gifts.

Basquez said people who were driving by stopped because they thought the toys were being sold, but when they found out what he was doing, they offered to donate money to his cause.

“We thanked them for the offer but told them it wasn’t necessary,” he said.

He said the feedback from families was “heartwarming,” and they received many comments such as “Thank you,” “God bless you;” “We don’t see this often;” “This is wonderful” and “We appreciate this.”

Valdez, who serves as a delegate for Soboba at the California Indian Manpower Consortium Inc., said she was happy that the nonprofit donated reusable water bottles and hot cocoa bombs they could distribute to each family as well.

“My son started doing this because he wanted to give toys to the kids in this town, and he wanted his own kids to learn about helping those less fortunate,” she said.

Basquez said he was happy that this year’s event was bigger and better than last year, and he was pleased that so many children received a toy.

“We look forward to next year,” he said.

He volunteers with other groups that do toy drives throughout the year since needy children enjoy gifts any time, not just at Christmas, he said.

To learn more about future events, follow Basquez on Instagram @bingbong1883.

Submitted by the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians.