The Alazan-Apache Courts toy drive seemed doomed after more than half of the 200 toys collected were stolen from the property's community room last Friday.
Then, San Antonio stepped up to replace the stolen gifts—and then some—as the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA) received more than 2,000 toys from the community at large since the theft.
Roxanne Aguilar, 35, was among the people who received gifts during a toy distribution Wednesday at SAHA headquarters. Aguilar, who lives at a SAHA community on the northwest side, said the toy drive would allow her to surprise her three kids on Christmas Day.
“This program helps a lot because with the pandemic there (are) very little jobs," Aguilar said. "So what they are doing helps provide a lot."
Aguilar said she was shocked when she first heard about the stolen toys, but was grateful for the community's response.
“I think it’s very awesome that we have people that care not only about themselves, but others,” Aguilar said.
Terrence Blackwood, 43, said it was his first time participating in the program. His son was wanting a laptop, and Blackwood was happy that he could grant his son’s wish.
“It should make him a little more happy because he is getting more gifts than usual," Blackwood said.
SAHA was able to increase the amount of children that received gifts from 60 to 1,600 due to the community's generous efforts, and it allowed the agency to give toys to residents at other public housing properties, not just at Alazan-Apache.
"San Antonio is always a community that stands together and rallies around each other, especially during times of need and times of crisis," said Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who helped hand out toys on Wednesday.
"This is all of that rolled into one and it’s such an incredible response from the community and hearing that children are giving other children their gifts so they wouldn’t go without one during Christmas is everything you need to know about our city."
SAHA Spokesman Michael Reyes said the agency received gifts from community organizations and churches, and even from kids who offered some of their own toys. He said the San Antonio Police Department is still investigating the theft, and no suspects have been identified.
Sammy Nieto, a retired executive at Valero Energy Corp., founded the toy drive at the Alazan-Apache Courts more than 25 years ago. Through a program funded by Valero, Nieto served as a mentor for youth in the area who were cited for truancy, and were required to attend college-prep and motivational courses.
During his service, he remembers encountering a man he met that told him in Spanish that "he had no money to buy his kids shoes."
Nieto said he felt the Alazan-Apache Courts, where the average family income is $9,000, was in need of assistance the most.
When he learned of the outpouring of support from the San Antonio community, Nieto was shocked at the generosity.
“The city of San Antonio woke up and said 'You’re not going to do this in this city,' and they came back and donated a bunch of gifts and money," Nieto said. "It’s a great city and they have a great heart and it shows from the people who donated.”
Rocky Garza Jr. is a freelance journalist in San Antonio. Follow him at @r0ckssss_ on Twitter