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Although Soledad Kennedy has been involved with the Toys for Tots program in Santa Barbara County for more than two decades, she said the feeling that comes with helping to organize the annual campaign never gets old.

Kennedy, a coordinator for Toys for Tots throughout the county, was at the Lompoc Veterans Memorial Building on Friday morning to help kick off this year’s drive in Lompoc. She was joined at the brief ceremony by several other supporters of Toys for Tots, a program through which toys are collected in donation bins and then sorted and given to children from local families in need.

It’s because of that knowledge that she is helping to brighten local families' holiday seasons that Kennedy said she’s stayed involved.

“I think the joy of knowing that you’re helping someone else is its own self-gratification,” she said, noting that she worked to instill that same philosophy in her four children. “You don’t need a pat on the back; you just need to know that I’m doing something for someone, and they’re going to remember that.”

The Lompoc Toys for Tots kickoff occurred just 24 hours after the Santa Maria-area drive was formally launched Thursday morning at Santa Maria City Hall.

Organizers noted that all donations made in each region will stay within that region. So, any toys or money donated to the Lompoc effort will go toward families in the Lompoc Valley.

The local Toys for Tots drives, which are part of a national effort run by the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, will be organized again this year, as they have for the past several years, by the Community Action Commission (CAC) of Santa Barbara County.

Elsa Balcorta, a CAC employee and Toys for Tots lead, said a couple changes were instituted this year: The age limit for children was raised one year to age 12, and the income guidelines were adjusted for the first time in four years to raise the income limits for families.

Those moves could make more people eligible to receive gifts through the Toys for Tots program, though Balcorta noted that wasn’t necessarily the wish.

“We don’t always hope that there’s a need, but we’re glad that we can provide toys and (these changes) will allow more families to qualify,” she said. “But the guidelines have always been pretty generous anyway.”

Registration for families in Lompoc who would like to receive toys will take place Tuesday, Nov. 6, and Wednesday, Nov. 7.

For more information on registration, contact the CAC at 805-740-4555 or visit the Lompoc office at 120 W. Chestnut Ave.

Collection bins have been set up at businesses and organizations throughout the Lompoc and Santa Maria valleys for people to drop off toys.

A couple of events in Lompoc will also be held on Saturday, Dec. 1, to raise funds and toys for the drive. The first will be the fourth annual Chasing Santa: Toys for Tots 5K Run/Walk, which is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. at River Park. The entry fee for the event is $5 plus an unwrapped $10 toy.

Also on Dec. 1, Barnstormers Aero Services Inc. will host its fifth annual entertainment event at the Lompoc Airport beginning at 10 a.m. Several types of aircraft are expected to be made available for viewing at that event, which will also include food and drinks. The entry fee will be one new, unwrapped toy.

René Minjares, with Barnstormers Aero Services Inc., said he’s hopeful the event at the airport will surpass last year’s donation total.

“Last year, we collected a little over 500 toys,” he said. “That’s pretty doggone good for a small community.”

For more information on the Chasing Santa run, contact Fran Zimmerman at 805-733-2255 or iristocrat@gmail.com.

Kennedy, a Marine reservist who lives in Lompoc, said she’s hopeful people will continue to support the Toys for Tots campaign.

“This is for our community,” she said.

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Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.

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