Hatchimals. EtchaSketch. AirHogs. The Rotary Club of Downey distributed nearly 2,000 of these Spin Master fuzzy delights absolutely free, brokering packages of a variety of the toys, to other Rotary Clubs and groups that focus on children at Christmas.
“We got these just in time for the holidays,” announced Jaimee Sul Baker, a Downey Rotarian and florist by profession. Jaimee is married to Doug Baker, twice Past District Governor of Rotary District 5280. Doug’s home club is Downey and together they are funneling these toys through the Rotary Club of Downey to many community organizations.
How did this windfall come about?
“I have a long-time friend, Kimberly Kim,” said Jaimee, “who has been a toy designer for over 20 years. She works for a highly popular toy design company called Spin Master, and one day when I hosted a girls' day at our house to hang out, for some friends from junior high school days. I just simply asked her, “Hey, does your company ever donate toys?”
“Turns out,” said Jaimee, “Spin Master has been trying to find a non-profit organization to donate thousands of toys each year. Kimberly, who specializes in toys for girls 4 years and up, connected me with Spin Master’s Community Relations representative, Amy Wolff, who then got me in touch with their donations coordinator, Henry Montgomery and the rest is history.”
“I sent Henry our Rotary District 5280’s 501-C3 non-profit form,” said Jaimee, “and, he coordinated the donation, over 1,800 toys, within a couple of days. These are highly sought after, top of the line items.
“Spin Master is one of the top toy design firms in the world. With new technologies and kids growing up so fast, Spin Master is always a step ahead of the game. But every year, they have surplus items stored in warehouse since the market is always looking for ‘new’ and ‘best’ toys available.”
But where can you store six pallets, each 10 feet high and piled with boxes of toys?
“Too much for a garage,” said Jaimee. “So thanks to the to the logistical skills and storage space at the Arc.”
“We’re glad we could offer you our warehouse space,” said Ray Brown, chief financial officer at the Arc and another member of the Downey club.
“We use our Building No. 3 for assembling packages we contract for,” said Donna Lindley, Rotarian and executive director of the Arc. “It’s part of the Arc’s Southeast Industries workshop, which provides vocational training for our clients.”
Rotarians met at the Arc headquarters on Woodruff Avenue and Washburn Road at 8 am and worked till noon to sort and re-package the toys for distribution.
“All Rotary clubs in District 5280 were notified that we had the toys available,” said Barbara, treasurer of the Downey club, who coordinated the re-arranging the toys into variety parcels of 25. “Interested clubs submitted specific plans for giving out the toys, and then it was first come, first served.”
“Will Medina will handle some of the toys,” said Barbara. “He is going to distribute them to Children’s Service for their December 20 program and to the LA Sheriffs. Larry Garces offered his truck too.”
Downeyite Rotarians who came to help Barbara were Debbie Fox, Jorge Montero, Maurice Casaus, Darren Dunaway and Raul Lopez.
Rotarians will be distributing this gigantic bagful of toys to other clubs in District 5280: Bellflower, Rio Hondo, Culver City, Latinos Unidos, Santa Monica, Torrance-Del Amo, Playa Venice, Inglewood, Lawndale and Koreatown.
Local organizations like Rancho Los Amigos’s Pediatric Unit will share in this abundance, as well as Exchange Club Family Support Center; Human Services Association; City of Downey Police & Fire Departments; and Toys for Tecate, an orphanage in Tijuana.
One extra special day will happen at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center. “They are having a New Year’s Program on Dec. 27,” said Barbara, “for kids who are patients in the Pediatric Unit and their families, on their beautiful Downey campus. They’ll have lemonade and hot dogs, cotton candy, balloons and games of chance. These toys will be the top prizes.”
“I just simply asked, and that’s how it got started,” said Jaimee, “a friend simply asking another friend whose company was looking for the right organization to help underserved children to donate their toys.”
But it isn't just random chance that Jaimee inquired like that. She had something in mind, and saw the possibilities.
“I consider myself to be a creative thinker,” said Jaimee, “who dares to try - not just talk the talk, but walk the walk.”
How many people get that impulse to do good, but never say it out loud, or follow through. Lost chances. But not when Jaimee is around.
The story of giving doesn’t stop here. Spin Master, a Toronto-based firm, is a fast-growing company – from 28 employees in 1999, five years after it was founded, to 1,600 globally now, and its young owner Ronnen Harary has become a billionaire, according to Forbes Magazine.
“Everyone loves a surprise, “Ronnen says, “and Hatchimals, for example, peck their way out of eggs and learn to walk, talk and play games. Bakugan balls pop open to reveal action figures when rolled across the ground.”
Spin Masters brands include 2009 Toy of the Year Bakugan, Gund; Etch A Sketch; 2016 Innovative Toy of the Year Erector Set by Meccano; Air Hogs; 2018 Property of the Year PAW Patrol; Aquadoodle; Tech Deck, 2017 Toy of the Year Hatchimals’ and 2015 Toy of the Year, Zoomer.
Harary and co-founder Anton Rabie go back even further than Jaimee and Kimberly: “We actually met at summer camp when we were eight years old and continued our close friendship throughout high school and Western Ontario University,” says Rabie.
Harary and Rabie believe in giving back through philanthropic and community-based work. Spin Master does a lot for children’s charities all over the world. They built a village in Malawi; they help Hebrew University in Jerusalem… the charity is endless.
A few years ago, Ronnen was on a trip to Zambia when he stopped to visit a family living in a one-room hut. On a shelf, he noticed a tattered Barbie doll that had been worn down by years of constant play. The importance the family attached to that simple toy stuck with him.
He started The Toy Movement providing toys to children living in troubled parts of the world, bringing them inspiration, imagination and joy through play. Since 2014, the Toy Movement has donated roughly 350,000 toys.
This year, with the help of Save the Children and numerous volunteers, The Toy Movement plans to donate 500,000 toys around the world, including to Rohingya Muslim refugees who have fled Myanmar.
“It’s even more important for kids in refugee camps to get toys,” said Harary, who frequently accompanies deliveries. “Toys are all about play, and so the kids get the ability to go out and play.”
“Rotary hopes to have a long-term relationship with Spin Master,” said Jaimee, “so that we can channel almost 2,000 toys annually.”
Third-graders from Downey Unified School District who come as guests to the Rotary Club’s annual Christmas luncheon will receive from Santa himself the first of these benefits.