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Lights, Santa & gift drive for teens
Teenage Holiday Toy Drive
Part of the Saunders yard decorations. - photo by MONICA CANE/The Bulletin

Jeff and Joy Saunders go all out for the holidays when it comes to decorating.  

Strings of bright lights, decorative Christmas trees, a wooden Mr. and Mrs. Claus, life-size inflatable polar bears and more cover their yard. 

Initially the annual decorative display was purely for the love of Christmas however, the last two years, the couple have combined their love for Christmas decorating with a very good cause — a teenage holiday toy drive benefiting foster youth of The Mary Graham Children’s Foundation.  The non-profit organization works to provide needs and goods to foster youth in the San Joaquin area, particularly those who have been processed out the foster care system at age 18.

Jeff’s sister, Amber Saunders is the Executive Director of The Mary Graham Children’s Foundation which has allowed the couple to have a more personal insight as to the needs of foster teens, particularly during the holidays.

 “Helping out the last couple of years, we noticed there isn’t a lot for teenagers.  There are a lot of items given for little girls and little boys but nothing for teenagers and so they tend not to get anything” said Joy.

Burdened by this, Jeff and Joy decided to help raise awareness the best way they know how.   

Every Saturday in December from 6 to 10 p.m. until Christmas Jeff is in his Santa suit outside of his spectacularly decorated Christmas home at 1221 Spruce Lane off Union Road between Louise Avenue and Northgate Drive sharing a hardy Ho! Ho! Ho! with visitors who drive or walk by to enjoy the holiday cheer  while Joy and the couple’s three children set up the hot cocoa and help gather unwrapped gifts for the teenage holiday toy drive.

Using a red Radio Flyer wagon to collect donations Joy recalls how last year, whenever they set out the wagon, it always came back full of donated gifts for teens and hopes to do the same if not better this year. “When people drive by our house they can enjoy all the lights, they don’t have to bring anything but it does bring an awareness of the needs.”

This year the teenage wish list includes: hair straighter, curling irons, hair serums, body sprays, body wash, nail polish, jewelry, head bands/scarves, watch, i-Pod shuffle, balls of all sorts, jackets, sportswear, slippers, beanies, alarm clock/radio, NFL and NBA shirts. CDs and DVDs, candy, journals, and Target gift card. 

Once all the donations have been collected Jeff will bring them to his sister at Mary Graham where she will arrange for them to be distributed accordingly.

Long before the idea of the toy drive, Joy says that her husband’s love for Christmas caused him to add more lights and more decorations every year.  At one point Joy began to worry that all the lights might bother her neighbors but was relieved when different neighbors approached her to let her know just how much they appreciated the Saunders family cheer and how they look forward to it every Christmas. And now that the Saunders added their heart-felt passion of raising awareness for the needs of foster youth in the San Joaquin area through a teenage toy drive, makes it even brighter.

While the couple works together to raise awareness for The Mary Graham Children’s Foundation Joy credits her husband for all the lights, decorations and holiday cheer and proudly admits, “He makes it all happen. He’s my Clark Griswold.” 

If interested in donating to the teenage toy drive, bring an unwrapped gift to the Saunders home when you come by to enjoy the Christmas lights, a visit with Santa and a cup of hot cocoa.