Breanna Reeves and Aryana Noroozi |

Deannia Deloney left her home in Hemet around 8:20 a.m. to arrive at the Bloomington Community Health Center around 9:15 a.m. and joined the line for a toy and food giveaway event in Bloomington.

Project Boon, in partnership with the Bloomington Community Health Center, welcomed hundreds of families to their annual Holiday Giving Christmas event on Tuesday, Dec. 21, just in time for Christmas.

Based in Rancho Cucamonga, Project Boon is a nonprofit organization that partners with local organizations across Southern California to host holiday events such as food and toy giveaways during Christmas, and serve hot meals during Thanksgiving.

Deloney stood in line waiting for the event to begin alongside her twin daughters and her younger brothers Eeamaria and Eric. Deloney and her family joined other parents, kids and grandparents who lined the sidewalk on Magnolia St. One resident, who was second in line, said that he and his son had been in line since 6:00 a.m.

“Unfortunately, I had some last minute stuff I had to pay for, so I went on Facebook last week and just put in toy drives and I found this one with groceries,” Deloney said. Deloney explained that she usually plans ahead for toys at the beginning of the year, but this year she had unexpected costs.

Deannia Deloney poses for a portrait with her younger brothers, Eric, 13, and Eeamaria, 12, and her twin daughters while they wait in line for the Holiday Giving Event on December 20, 2022. Deloney said every Christmas, she allocates money specifically to purchase toys for her children, but this year she had a number of unexpected expenses arise shortly before the holidays. “I went on Facebook last week and just put in toy drives and I found this one with groceries,” Deloney said. The family came from Hemet to attend the event. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom /CatchLight Local).

With toy donations from strategic partners like Amazon and grocery donations from the local Grocery Outlet in Rialto, Project Boon Executive Director Christopher Suchánek said that they expect roughly 300 families to attend the event and estimated they will distribute 7,000 donations by the end of the day.

Local food insecurity

According to San Bernardino County, in 2019, the Riverside-San Bernardino metro region had a notably higher level of food insecurity than the state and nation. The U.S. reported that 10.4% of residents in the nation experienced food insecurity compared to 9.9% in California and 13.4% in the Riverside-San Bernardino region.

“This is for underserved families or families that are struggling to make ends meet. What we say is Project Boon helps families make ends meet during the holidays,” Suchánek said. While families are limited to three toys per household, Suchánek said that by supplying families with some toys and groceries, this will allow them to afford the rest to “ease the suffering a little during the holidays.”

The line for the Project Boon Holiday Giving Event at the Bloomington Community Health Center spans multiple blocks, stretching down Commercial Street and wrapping around Virginia Geil Way with families awaiting the food and toy drive, on December 20, 2022. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom /CatchLight Local).
Under the food drive tent, volunteers (left) prepare to give grocery bags to attendees while other volunteers (right) unpack and distribute the food into bags to be handed out at the Bloomington Community Health Center on December 20, 2022. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom /CatchLight Local).

Resource information available during the event

The giveaway event also served as a site for resources for families who may otherwise not have access to them. Several organizations across the Inland Empire like Inland Empire Health Plan (IEHP) and San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, had tables set up with educational pamphlets, free at-home COVID-19 tests and small toys for children.

The Bloomington Community Health Center is one of six health centers under Community Health Systems, Inc. (CHSI), a nonprofit that operates health centers across Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego Counties. During the event, the CHSI Mobile Clinic offered free flu shots and COVID-19 vaccines.

A family spins a wheel and answers questions about women’s health at the Women, Children’s, and Infant (WIC) Program booth on December 20, 2022. Project Boon and the Bloomington Community Health Center partnered on the Holiday Giving Event food and toy drive which featured other partner organizations that distributed community health resources. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom /CatchLight Local).
A child makes a reindeer bookmark with a volunteer at the Women, Children’s, and Infant (WIC) Program booth on December 20, 2022. Many partners at the Holiday Giving Event, including WIC, were community health organizations. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom /CatchLight Local).
Volunteers working the toy drive booth prepare toys to distribute as attendees enter the event on December 20, 2022. As the event began, Project Boon Executive Director Christopher Suchánek said that they expected roughly 300 families to attend the event and estimated to distribute 7,000 donations by the end of the day. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom /CatchLight Local).

Roughly 57% of eligible residents in San Bernardino County have completed their primary series for the COVID-19 vaccine and 13% have received the updated bivalent booster, according to the latest available data from the California Department of Public Health. In Riverside County, 60% of eligible residents have completed their primary series and just under 15% of residents have received the bivalent booster.

The event was organized similar to an assembly line where families entered the parking lot lined with booths and made a stop at each one. First, families were signed in at the health center booth and given a paper that allowed them to receive the free items, then they passed a few community partner tables like Blue Shield of California. 

Project Boon volunteers lined the tent filled with tables of packed grocery bags containing two weeks’ worth of groceries. In addition to grocery bags filled with holiday foods like stuffing mix and cereal, volunteers handed each family a turkey and a snack box.

Groceries donated by partnering organization, Grocery Outlet, are placed in gift bags and arranged under a tent to be distributed by event volunteers on December 20, 2022. The groceries will feed a family for two weeks. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom /CatchLight Local).
Bags of groceries donated by Grocery Outlet occupy most of the floor under a tent at Project Boon’s Holiday Giving Event on December 20, 2022 at the Bloomington Community Health Center. Each bag will feed a family for two weeks. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom /CatchLight Local).
Volunteers break down empty grocery boxes after unpackaging goods and creating grocery gift bags to give away in the foodrive on December 20, 2022. Project Boon estimated that they would distribute 7,000 donations by the end of the day. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom /CatchLight Local).

After grabbing their toys, children were ushered into a small tented setup where Mr. and Mrs. Claus sat handing out candy canes in front of a fireside backdrop. Families paused to snap photos of kids posing with Mr. and Mrs. Claus before moving on to the other booths.

“We’re distributing things like turkey roasts, so there’s stuff in there to provide them with an actual Christmas meal if that’s what they’re going to do,” Suchánek said.

Leslie Montano said this event is the most organized event she’s ever participated in as a volunteer. Montano has lived in Fontana for most of her life and began volunteering to get more familiar with the community resources that are available in the region. The holiday giveaway event is Montano’s second time volunteering with Project Boon.

Suchánek explained that 2022 is a milestone year for the organization as they celebrate 11 years of serving communities, surpass 200,000 meals distributed to families in need and over 38,000 volunteer hours provided. Project Boon is 100% volunteer-based and amassed 100 registered volunteers to work this year’s holiday event.

A child smiles and reaches for the Hot Wheels toy he is gifted at the Project Boon Holiday Giving Event and toy drive at the Bloomington Community Health Center on December 20, 2022. The purpose of the event was to lessen the burden on families who may be struggling during the holiday season by supplying them with toys and groceries. (Aryana Noroozi for Black Voice News Newsroom /CatchLight Local).

Miley Muñoz, a coordinator at the Bloomington Community Health Center, said that this year’s holiday event is the center’s biggest holiday event yet due to the support from Project Boon.

“There’s a lot of need in this community,” Muñoz said. She explained that for past events, families traveled as far as from Victorville to attend the holiday events hosted at the community center.

Breanna Reeves

Breanna Reeves is a reporter in Riverside, California, and uses data-driven reporting to cover issues that affect the lives of Black Californians. Breanna joins Black Voice News as a Report for America Corps member. Previously, Breanna reported on activism and social inequality in San Francisco and Los Angeles, her hometown. Breanna graduated from San Francisco State University with a bachelor’s degree in Print & Online Journalism. She received her master’s degree in Politics and Communication from the London School of Economics. Contact Breanna with tips, comments or concerns at breanna@voicemediaventures.com or via twitter @_breereeves.

Aryana Noroozi

Black Voice News photojournalist Aryana Noroozi was born in San Diego, California and graduated with a master’s degree from The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Her love for visual storytelling led her to document immigrant and deportee communities and those struggling with addiction. She was a 2020 Pulitzer Center Crisis Reporting Fellow and a GroundTruth Project Migration Fellow. She is currently a CatchLight/Report for America corps member employed by Black Voice News. You can learn more about her at aryananoroozi.com. You can email her at aryana@blackvoicenews.com.