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Athletes Volunteer at SF Toy & Book Festival

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L–R) President Stephens, Safua Elisaia (volleyball), Bailey Soolsma (volleyball) and Jarred Gregory-Grimes (cross country/track & field).

Academy of Art University student-athletes headed to City Hall on Dec. 2 to lend firefighters a hand by distributing toys to 1,200 children at the San Francisco Children’s Toy & Book Festival.

The annual event is held by Mayor Edwin M. Lee and the San Francisco Department of Child Support Services in partnership with the San Francisco Public Library and San Francisco Firefighters’ Union Local 798. Toys for the festival are collected through donations to the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program, the oldest toy drive in the country run by off-duty firefighters and their families.

Between classes and games, student-athletes also help the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program by collecting, sorting, packing and handing out toys to children year-round, including around holidays and during disasters, such as the recent wildfires in Butte and Lake Counties. Among the teams in attendance on Dec. 2 were: men’s soccer, women’s soccer, track and field, women’s golf and volleyball.

Volleyball sophomore outside hitter Bailey Soolsma was in attendance and iterated that she thinks “it’s important to engage with kids in the community and give them a chance to get a present, meet Santa and enjoy the holiday.”

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(L–R) Safua Elisaia (volleyball) and Bailey Soolsma (volleyball).

The partnership dates back to 2011 when the nonprofit toy program lost its home. That year university President Dr. Elisa Stephens offered warehouse space at the university’s Jerrold Avenue facility in the Bayview and encouraged student-athletes to volunteer. The toy program has been operating from the same location ever since.

“Five years ago when we were told we had to vacate our space, Dr. Stephens stepped up,” said Sally Casazza, chairperson for the toy program. “Donating the space means ensuring that we can continue to collect and distribute 200,000 toys to 40,000 low-income families in a safe and respectable environment.”

Academy of Art University Director of Athletics Colin Preston says the toy program is just one of several San Francisco organizations where student-athletes volunteer. This time of year, students recall memories of opening presents with their own families and put themselves in the shoes of children who might not otherwise receive any gifts over the holidays. “To be out in the community is something that’s at the forefront of our department,” Preston said.

Men’s soccer redshirt freshman midfielder Jordan Seech added: “Now is the time of giving … having Academy of Art come out to assist with kids in need by giving them a great present, talking to Santa and having a great time! Spending the holidays with the elementary kids makes it rewarding.”

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Back row: (L–R) Elf, Jarred Gregory-Grimes (cross country/track & field), Bailey Soolsma (volleyball), Orlando de la Garza (Campus Life Coordinator), Santa Claus, Jordan Seech (soccer), Colin Preston (Director of Athletics), Cameron De Lay (Director of Marketing), Safua Elisaia (volleyball). Front row: (L–R) Crystal Wang (golf), Mistic Scott (track & field) and Dierra Haven (track & field).