The Morongo Band of Mission Indians hosted a holiday shopping spree for more than 2,000 area children, who were each given a budget of around $35 and let loose in a toy shop in search of their favorite toys.
The sixth annual Marines Toys for Tots event was organized by Fox 11 News reporter Rick Lozano and took place at the Toys R Us store in Ontario, Calif. Dec. 20. The event was primarily funded through a $50,000 donation by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, who served as the title sponsor of this year’s shopping spree.
The store is located in the area known as the Inland Empire – a metropolitan area centered around the cities of Riverside and San Bernardino and part of the Greater Los Angeles area in Southern California. The area is one of the fastest growing – and poorest – areas in the country. Hard hit by the economic downturn, unemployment rates in the region range from 16 to 34 percent, leaving many families hurting this holiday season.
Morongo Tribal Chairman Robert Martin said the holidays are the perfect, but not the only, time for philanthropy.
“The holiday season reminds us all of how important it is to share in good times and in bad. In these tough times, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians feels blessed to help create wonderful holiday memories for so many local children.”
Along with its donation, Morongo also transported more than 400 children from the San Gorgonio Pass Region to the shopping spree, and provided the kids with breakfast and event T-shirts.
The Morongo Band operates one of the oldest and most successful Indian gaming facilities in the country, but like all Indian nations it was a struggle to get there. The tribe has a 32,000 square acre reservation at the foot of the San Gorgonio and San Jacinto mountains that was established by President Ulysses Grant by executive order in 1865. It is home to around 3,000 tribal members.
The tribe lived a hard scrabble life on trust lands with few resources until 1983 when the tribe opened a small bingo hall. The bingo operation has since morphed into the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa with a luxury 310-room hotel, a super spa, world-class gaming, top notch entertainment and a variety of dining and nightlife options.
Today, the Morongo Band is the largest private sector employer in the Banning-Beaumont region and a major contributor to the Coachella Valley economy. The tribe employs more than 3,000 people in both gaming and non-gaming tribal operations and has generated billions of dollars into the regional economy over the years.
As the band’s prosperity has grown, so has its tradition of philanthropy. In November, the Morongo donated 9,000 turkeys to those in need in its 25th Annual Thanksgiving Outreach the week leading up to the holiday. The turkeys fed tens of thousands of people in the area.
Morongo has contributed more than $5 million to hundreds of local and national nonprofits during the last five years.
The children who participated in the shopping spree were invited to the event by area nonprofit groups. The children emerged from the store with a wide variety of toys, from Barbie dolls and board games to Transformer action figures and video games.
“This is my new best friend,” said Hailee E., a 13-year-old from Banning, as she clutched a three-foot tall stuffed monkey. “This was exciting. I’ve only ever been to a Toys R Us twice before.”
Amy Herr, the director of the Boys and Girls Club of the San Gorgonio Pass said many of the parents told her the toy provided by the shopping spree may be the only one their child receives this year.
“Without the support and commitment of Fox 11 and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, programs like today’s Toys for Tots shopping spree would not be able to help so many children in need.”
Lozano said the kids’ event was one of the highlights of the year.
“Every year we look forward to working with our partners in the community such as Morongo to bring joy to the hearts of children. To bring smiles to the faces of thousands of children, especially at a time when so many families are hurting, is a true testament to the meaning behind the holiday season.”