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December 20, 2011 > So that's how they do it!

So that's how they do it!

By Simon Wong
Photos By Simon Wong

Union City's Police Explorers deliver gifts and festive cheer to more than 100 Union City families each year. They distribute some presents at the annual Tri-Cities Winter Charity Event at the Purple Lotus School on Ninth Street and deliver the majority to homes throughout Union City.

How do they come by these toys? The public can leave donations, marked for the attention of 'Police Explorers,' year-round at Union City Police Department, William M. Cann Memorial Civic Center, 34009 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City. What is not so apparent is the support of Hayward businessman Gilbert D. Robledo, who owns Gilbert's Body & Paint at 2964 Arf Avenue, Hayward, and of the Bay Bombs Car Club.

Every December, Union City-born-and bred Robledo closes his business for one day to host a toy drive party though he collects toys from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. He and his wife, Dolores, graciously organize food, BBQ, a DJ and live music to entertain guests and supporters. There are fundraising auctions throughout the day and collection boxes on tables. It is an event at which Bay Bombs Car Club members show off their beautiful vehicles and an opportunity for friends to catch up with each other. Most hail from Decoto and grew up together.

J.J. Amaya (KOHL 89.3 FM), supported by Chucky Salinas, provided the playlist and doubled as auctioneer. Robledo, who earned his living as a drummer across the Bay Area before joining the military and starting his own business, played a live set with friends.

"I started the toy drive on behalf of the Marines when I opened my business 10 years ago. It was something I had wanted to do for a long time. The first year, they delivered a collection drum which was still here on Christmas Eve and couldn't be collected until January because the Marines had been deployed to Iraq. The toys had to go out in time for Christmas so, for the first seven years, I took them to Hayward Fire Department. For the past three years, I've enjoyed the support of Bay Bombs Car Club of which I'm a member. The son of one of my wife's co-workers is a Union City Police Explorer. We collect new toys and the Explorers, gently used toys, so we connected with each other," explained Robledo, a former Marine. "This arrangement works well because the toys go to the community in which I grew up. I graduated from James Logan High School and have very strong ties to Union City."

More than 500 toys were collected last year; most went to Union City and some to San Jose. Robledo also introduced auctions in 2010 and raised $650.

"We linked in with a teen program administered by a church in Hayward and invited seven kids to our staff Christmas party. The kids didn't know why they were at the shop. We topped off the auction proceeds and my wife and daughter presented each with a $100 gift card at the end of lunch. It was really touching. None of them would have had anything for Christmas," added Robledo. "This year's auction proceeds might go to teens or a family. We'll decide once we have the final count."

This year's toy drive party lasted from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. with Union City Police Explorers sporting "Toys for Tots" banners and megaphones at the intersection of Industrial Boulevard and Arf Avenue, supervised by Officer Ryan Seto. Santa, aka Jeff Orozco who has worked for Fremont Chapel of the Roses for 22 years, arrived in the funeral home's famed white, hot-rod hearse with $100 of toys and candy canes from his employer to lend support for the toy drive. This is the first year that Fremont Chapel of the Roses has participated.

"The Police Explorers is a program for kids, aged 14-21, interested in law enforcement. They attend two-hour, weekly meetings at the Police Department and community events such as Toys for Tots; they do fingerprinting, ride-along with officers each month and attend two annual competitions in which they're assessed in scenarios, such as traffic stops, searches and hostage negotiations, which are part of real police work," said Seto, advisor to the Union City Police Explorers. "We have a close relationship with Gilbert Robledo; the families we serve are identified through Centro De Servicios and have between one and five children. The Community Policing & Problem-Solving Unit, the Explorers and Union City command staff will deliver the toys."

Passing motorists responded. One gentleman donated $50. Others went home and returned with toys. Andrea Rodrick, who was moving home and shuttling between Hayward and San Mateo, retrieved unused toys from her belongings and generously donated them. The Police Explorers wrapped 210 toys and took away another 54 in boxes.

Additional donations can be left at Gilbert's Body & Paint at 2964 Arf Avenue, Hayward, for final collection by the Union City Police Explorers on December 24.

For more information:

Union City Police Explorers
(510) 471-1365

Centro De Servicios
(510) 489-4100

Bay Bombs Car Club

Gilbert's Body & Paint
(510) 783-0500

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