Lefty O’Doul’s restaurant in San Francisco’s Union Square is gearing up for its annual last-minute toy drive, and this year’s goal is to collect 9,000 toys for kids who might otherwise go without on Christmas.
Restaurant co-owner Nick Bovis is preparing for a 22-hour day on Thursday that he anticipates will be both rewarding and exhausting.
The toy drive will kick off at 4 a.m. on Christmas Eve. New, unwrapped toys will be accepted until 2 a.m. on Christmas Day.
The restaurant is located at Geary and Powell streets, where parking can be horrendous during the holidays, but Bovis says don’t fear–Christmas elves will be waiting curbside to accept donations. All drivers have to do is pull over and hand gifts out the window.
This is the restaurant’s ninth year hosting the Christmas Eve toy drive, Bovis said.
This year, Bovis plans to bring his kids, and his wife has requested that he contribute extra toys instead of buying her a gift.
“I’ve been buying her a purse every year and she doesn’t need any more,” Bovis said.
The toys will be given to the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program. Firefighters will pick up the toys from the restaurant and distribute them to kids in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Bovis plans to communicate with the firefighters about their needs through a special phone booth he has installed and decorated inside Lefty’s.
“We have a direct line to the North Pole,” he said.
He said he has been told the firefighters need 7,500 toys this year, but that Lefty’s plans to shoot for 9,000 just to be safe.
Firefighter Danny Gracia said any extra toys will be saved and that the program distributes toys throughout the year, not just on Christmas.
“(The toys) will get used and they will go to the people that are in need,” he said.
Gracia said about 40,000 kids receive toys through the firefighters’ program throughout the season and that all of the kids who want toys this year will be accommodated.
However, he said, “It could always be better, but when the economy is off, so to speak, things can be a little bit leaner.”
There is a particular need for toys for girls ages 8-12 and boys ages 3-7, he said.
Firefighters will be out distributing the toys on Thursday and Friday. Gracia said he will be among them on Christmas Day.
If Gracia gets hungry on Christmas Eve, he is invited to stop by Lefty’s for a bite – firefighters eat for free during the toy drive, Bovis said.
An extensive lineup of entertainment is in store at the restaurant, including performances by Lester Chambers, of the Chambers Brothers, Preston J. Turner & Pure Ecstasy, carolers and marching bands from high schools throughout the Bay Area.
Bovis said the last-minute toy drive started out small.
“The first year it really sort of moved me,” he said. He described people driving up with shiny new toys and brand-new bicycles.
“It shocked me because I didn’t think there were that many nice people out there,” he said, laughing.
“It changed my perspective on things a little bit,” he said. “Now this is my favorite part of Christmas, collecting these toys.”