United Way and San Diego-Imperial Labor Council did Food & Toy distribution at Petco Park. Image via Twitter

More than 700 San Diego County families received dinners, toys, gifts and a holiday cheer Thursday at the 33rd annual United Way of San Diego County and San Diego & Imperial Counties Labor Council Food and Toy Distribution.

The annual tradition is coordinated through the organizations’ Unions United partnership and supports working families and community members who need extra help.

More than 700 families in San Diego County and 250 families in Imperial County benefited from the 2020 drive distribution Thursday. This year, the pandemic has dramatically increased the number of families in need. The tourism and hospitality industries have been decimated by the pandemic — and the impact has been severe.

“I’ve been a hotel banquet captain for 25 years. The pandemic has cost me the job that I love,” said Ricardo Lavin, one of Thursday’s participants. “I am grateful to have the support of so many workers in the community who have come together so that my grandkids and I can celebrate Christmas this year.”

Donations are made from the union dues invested by the more-than 200,000 workers the labor council represents to assist fellow working families and community members in need.

“Working people have been profoundly impacted by the pandemic and economic crisis. Families are unable to feed their kids because they are out of work, and they need help,” said Keith Maddox, executive secretary-treasurer of the labor council.

“Union workers have a tradition of solidarity and helping those most in need. Our labor movement comes together every year to ensure that families who are hurting have a holiday meal and their kids have toys to make things a little brighter,” Maddox said.

In United Way of San Diego County’s last fiscal year, by leveraging federal funds and donations, Unions United provided more than $757,000 in emergency assistance for rent or mortgage, utilities and food to more than 3,700 families.

“This year, all families have been impacted in one way or another by the pandemic,” said Nancy Sasaki, president and CEO of United Way of San Diego County. “But many who experience economic and food instability year-round have gone through even more difficulties this year than others.”

“Our United Way team and partners at the labor council long awaited this time-honored event to support families in our diverse communities who rely on extra support during the holiday season. Seeing the relief on the faces of the parents and knowing their children would be full of smiles on Christmas Day, made our volunteers and staff fill up with joy,” Sasaki said.

More than 100 volunteers from local unions came together Thursday at Petco Park to give back to pre-selected union and community families who were the most in need. In addition to toys and gifts, all participating families received a bag of food with all the fixings needed to cook up a holiday dinner.

— City News Service