Lefty O'Doul's toys distributed to needy children


Each year, Lefty O'Doul's restaurant gives the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program a boost with its Christmas Eve toy drive.

The toys donated at Lefty's are added to thousands of others that have been collected by firefighters for distribution to some of the city's neediest kids.

Many families pick up the toys at designated distribution centers; others are able to have their toys dropped off at home.

In addition, firefighters in the Tenderloin have a special tradition of cruising through the neighborhood after each run and looking for kids to surprise with a toy.

"We just go out and start handing out toys to people walking the streets," Firefighter Keith Onishi said.

At about 9 a.m., Onishi was in the middle of one such run with Lee Houskeeper, the spokesman for Lefty O'Doul's.

"We're in the truck going around the Tenderloin handing out toys, it's the most fun in the whole world," a gleeful Houskeeper said.

Onishi said the goodies being handed out include Play Doh, stuffed animals, remote-controlled cars, footballs, tea sets and chess sets.

"We just want to make sure that the right kids get the right toys," he said.

"The kids out here really appreciate it, 'cause it's like a surprise," Onishi said.

He said he has been part of the Tenderloin Christmas Day toy run for about 15 years and is a regular volunteer with the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program.

"We serve 40,000 kids a year in 30 days," he said.

San Francisco fire Lt. Ken Smith said holiday toys are given out starting the day after Thanksgiving. He said the toy program also donates toys throughout the year at hospitals and special events.

Smith was at Lefty O'Doul's until 1 a.m. today, where he said he saw a "great outpouring of support for our toy drive."

"With Santa being at Lefty's this year and the unfortunate thing that happened over at Macy's, they were able to cut us a check for $7,500 for the toy program last night," Smith said.

He was referring to "Santa John" Toomey, who was welcomed with open arms at Lefty's after he said

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