Back: left to right: Pastor Michael Brown, Tracy Wrigt, and Solomon Barnes
Front: Six-year-old Sydni Gaines and Santa Clause (A.K.A. Dennis Barnett) at Lakeview Lock Shop’s annual Christmas Toy Giveaway.
BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Every year at Christmas time, needy children from near and far come to Solomon Barnes’ lock shop in the California Heights section of Long Beach. They come, because they know that a small mountain of presents is waiting there for them.
In late November, Barnes sent out letters to various organizations asking them to attend the December 22 event and to bring needy children from 1 to 13 years old. This year’s annual “Toy Gift Give-Away” took place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Barnes Lakeview Shop at 913 East Wardlow Road.
“I’ve been a locksmith for 20 years. I’ve been at this location for 10 years,” he said. Before mastering the trade, he worked for McDonnell Douglas managing the Long Beach plant’s outreach and employee assistance programs. “We always gave things away,” he said.
When Barnes was growing up in Mississippi, his family was so poor that the kids never got toys for Christmas. “So I always said, if I ever have something, I am going to share the blessings with people who are less fortunate than me,” he said.
When Barnes worked for McDonnell Douglas, the company gave him lots of money to run the outreach program, but when he got laid-off, the money was no longer available.
“When I left Douglas, I started dealing with lots recovery programs but I noticed that the kids didn’t have toys,” he said, noting that he was involved in ministries that helped recovering alcoholics and drug addicts get back on their feet. He added that many of the people who are trying to get over addictions live in group homes during their recovery process. “These are people that have had problems but are trying to get their lives back on the right road,” he explained. “But while they are rebuilding their lives, they don’t have any money and if they have kids, they can’t buy presents for them. I told my wife Doris that I wanted to start giving toys away and she said she would help,” he said. “So we started giving four or five thousand dollars worth of toys and we invited the people from different homes to bring their kids for Christmas presents.”
Barnes and his wife still provide much of the funds for the toy giveaway, but more and more individuals and businesses are also donating to the worthy cause. “God started this thing,” Barnes insisted. “He got me started in it with my wife helping and later got a couple of friends to help, but all the credit for all of this has to go to God.”
At Barnes invitation, Pastor Michael C. Brown of St. John Missionary Baptist Church in Long Beach participated in the event by praying a blessing over the children and handing out the toys. Brown, who is also a chaplain for Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, said he was honored to be able to play a role in the giveaway. “Giving toys to children that are less fortunate than others is a blessing especially during this time when many parents are losing their jobs because of the economic recession,” he added. “This is a great example of God’s love and a reminder of the greatest gift of all which is the fact that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that we all might have a right to the tree of life.”
Barnes agreed. “The greatest gift I ever received and the best thing that ever happened to me was being able to accept the Lord Jesus Christ in my life,” he said. “I want to keep the Lord first in everything that I do. If you keep your hand closed you never get anything, but once you open it to ask for God’s help and to give to others, God starts doing things for you.”
Brown added that giving to the less fortunate is one of the best ways to demonstrate God’s love. “You can’t beat God in giving, no matter how hard you try,” he said. “He always gives you back more than you gave to others. To see the smile on the children’s faces is worth much more than any monetary donation.”
Tracy Wright, the chairperson of the Toy Giveaway, agreed with Barnes and Brown. “This is such a great blessing,” she said. “Every year that I do this, I get so full. It brings so much joy to my life.” Wright explained that it takes about six weeks to coordinate the event and purchase all the toys, but all the hard work is worth it when the children arrive.
The kids also expressed joy, “I am thankful,” said six-year-old Tyrone Black.
“I am glad I got the present, Ryon Posey, 9 years old, added. “But it’s not really about receiving it’s about giving.”
“This young man really understands what it’s all about,” Brown said. “We are told to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Christ and Christmas is supposed to remind us of that calling,”
Barnes, who attends the Rock Christian Fellowship in Long Beach, agreed. “I came from nothing, and God blessed me and I just want to share the blessing with other people,” he said. “I am so grateful that I can give something back to the community and to be able to give something to children that don’t have much. But this is not about me, it’s about God’s love.”
About 500 kids came to the toy giveaway this year.