Showing Children the Joy of Christmas

Children gather at picnic tables for a tasty barbecue lunch after a family fun-filled morning of activities at CLF’s Project Angel Wings Party.

A Malibu charity once again spread Christmas cheer to more than 150 at-risk children with a fun-filled holiday event at a beautiful camp setting in the hills of Malibu. The Children’s Lifesaving Foundation (CLF) bussed the youngsters in Saturday from some of Los Angeles’ poorest neighborhoods for a whole day of Christmas activities and a grand finale visit from Santa Claus with gifts to take home.

For many of the children attending the 16th annual Project Angel Wings Party held at Camp Hess Kramer, it was the first time they had ever left their neighborhoods. The mission of 25-year-old CLF is to help homeless and at-risk families and children on their way to domestic independence.

CLF helps support 39 shelters and agencies throughout the area. The nonprofit provides free summer camp opportunities as well as local services to help lift families up from poverty. Saturday’s event was just one of many holiday parties for needy children. 

The group’s founder, Maria D’Angelo, explained some of the charity’s work leading up to Christmas. 

“Next week, we’ll be going to Boyle Heights. We go to shelters and bring toys. Then on Christmas Day we go to the Midnight Mission and bring more toys,” D’Angelo described. “This is a great community project because all the schools in Malibu, the churches, the synagogue—all contribute.” So do other businesses and organizations including Agape International Spiritual Center, California Supply, Capital One, the Oder Family Foundation and JAKKs Pacific Toys.

Saturday, the children arrived to a big breakfast and entertainment including a DJ, an extensive arts and crafts program donated by local Ali Thonson and her family, face painting, dancing, a photo booth, games and a BBQ lunch. 

After lunch, magician Joe Greco performed and introduced Santa. 

“We receive wish lists from the children ahead of time and we procure thousands of toys thanks to Jakks Pacific,” D’Angelo said. “Then all the local schools—Webster, Juan Cabrillo, Point Dume—all bring gifts. We personalize each child’s gift bag. Santa calls each child by name and gives each one a bag of seven or eight personalized gifts. Capitol One actually went out and bought specific items requested.”

Actor Michael Chiklis, a spokesperson for CLF, attended the festivities Saturday. He told The Malibu Times why he’s committed to the organization. 

“My wife and I became involved close to 25 years ago. A friend from ‘The Commish,’ (Chiklis’ former TV show) said, ‘We’re helping at-risk youth in Los Angeles—people who are facing homelessness.’ We went to a gala and listening to Maria had a big impact on us,” Chiklis recalled. “We were young parents at the time, so the notion that there were then 80,000 children and their families who were homeless or threatened by homelessness just in L.A. County—I thought, well, that is just unacceptable. That’s legions of children. What’s going on? So we became involved and have been ever since.”

Chiklis added that D’Angelo’s commitment to the cause has been an inspiration.

“I just think Maria’s a saint. She’s tireless. She works all year round with these children,” he said. “The idea that they get to come to a place like this—a gorgeous camp—you find out there are kids from South Central who haven’t seen the ocean and they live in Los Angeles and they’ve never seen the ocean because they know the three, four blocks they live in, and that’s it. You can see the mind-expanding impact when they come here and see the open spaces and the trees. 

“The programs are wonderful, the way they’re set up. They’re a hand up, not a hand out,” Chiklis detailed. “They vet out families, give them training, and help find housing. It’s my understanding that not one of the families we’ve worked with in all these years has ever gone homeless again. It’s extraordinary. When you see these kids get presents and see their faces light up and see this is not something that happens for them—you’d have to be made of stone if you’re not moved by it. It’s not just about giving kids things. It’s about making them aware there’s a big beautiful world out there with all kinds of possibilities and that they should pursue them.”

D’Angelo explained that at every Christmas party the children always make something to bring home to their mothers. On Saturday, the children crafted snowmen and ornaments to take home and share with their families. 

Chiklis and his wife Michelle summed it up with a final comment: “Helping children. What’s better than that? Nothing.”

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