Click photo to enlarge
Children line up to meet Santa Claus and to participate in the free toy giveaway on Friday at the Alisal School District office in Salinas.

Braving chilly, end-of-the-world weather, hundreds of families of Salinas' Alisal neighborhood lined up as early as 6 a.m. Friday to receive an early Christmas gift.

Backed by a sponsorship from the National Steinbeck Center, two Alisal-based entrepreneurial families, the Cabreras and the Pedersens, collected nearly 2,000 toys to distribute to East Salinas children, most of them from farmworker families.

"The National Steinbeck Center is doing a great job reaching out to the less fortunate, so we're teaming up to do this," said Ricky Cabrera, president of Cabrera Contracting Inc.

It's the second year the families put together the event, Cabrera said.

The toy distribution was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., but the children had been waiting so long in the cold that the families started the giveaway about 9 a.m.

Blanca Hernandez, a field worker with two children, said it was helpful to have the event.

"It really is," she said. "Neither my husband nor I are working. The first thing we do is save money for the rent. That's the only thing we have for sure right now."

Her 2-year-old boy received a stuffed lion.

Arturo Correa, a 10-year-old Cesar Chavez Elementary School student, got a blue trailer truck. His relatives also received gifts: 10-year-old Jesus Rubio got a set of 12 tiny sports cars, and Antonio Rubio, the youngest of the clan, got a stuffed animal.

"This is fabulous," said Arturo's mother, 42-year-old Fidelina Correa. "The children are very happy."

The giveaway took place at the offices of the Alisal Union School District, which serves more than 8,000 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, nearly all of whom live in poverty.

"It's a way for us to partner with the community and provide for these families," said Superintendent John Ramirez.

Alex Cabrera, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Palma High School, said the event has become more than just a toy giveaway.

"It brings a big smile to their faces, and then they say thank you," he said.

Ryan Pedersen, a 15-year-old sophomore at Palma, said it feels good to give back to the community.

"We're helping out," he said. "This is nice."

Alisal's toy giveaway wasn't the only one this week. Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Watsonville, was scheduled to distribute toys at the Camphora Labor Camp on Friday afternoon, and the Crime Prevention Officers Association of Monterey County delivered more than 1,000 toys Thursday afternoon in Carmel.

Claudia Meléndez Salinas can be reached at 753-6755 or cmelendez@montereyherald.com.