|Tony Rowshan plays Santa with toys collected by I-CAR Los Angeles for children in need after recent wild fires.|
On Saturday, December 20, 2003, we loaded up two full size vans (courtesy of Enterprise Rental) and a Toyota pickup and headed out for the 120-mile trip to the San Bernardino mountain town of Rim Forest. We were all pretty stoked up about what we were doing and we joked merrily as we began the trip, but as we started up Hwy 18 to the mountain resorts, reality hit all of us. We were in a state of shock seeing the devastation that the wild fires had done. The slopes were covered with a light yellow powder, a fire retardant, and the black charred remains of tress. There were no other colors. It was like being on another planet.
As we made the 25-mile trip up the mountain, we came across many burned out businesses and homes. I cannot put into words the effect seeing street after street of destroyed homes had on us. To make the picture even drearier, it started to rain. We were all pretty bummed out when we arrived at the Elks Lodge in Rim Forest. The local coordinator for the toy drive was school teacher Stephanie Phillips. When she came out to meet us and saw only the Toyota pickup, she probably thought there were not going to be enough toys for the 350 families that signed up for assistance. I told her that we needed help with the toys, and looking at just the pickup, she said that we could unload them. Then I pointed to the vans behind us, all filled with toys, and she began to cry. She made one call and everyone in town came out to help unload. It was unbelievable to see the community spirit these people have. As we filled up the meeting room at the Elks Lodge with toys, a young father with tears in his eyes came up to me and gave me a hug and said, "there really is a Santa Claus."