Holiday toy drive gets assistance from Sparks player

By Sue Favor

Contributing Writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Pre-holiday food and toy giveaways are always popular, but after nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the community, the need was much greater this year.

Lines dotted the area Dec. 19, as hundreds of people showed up for food, toys, clothing and other goods. Community organizations, activists, athletes, churches and the LAPD were among those offering goods to those in need.

One successful alliance was between LaSandra Dixon, Luther Keith Jr. and Reshanda Gray. Dixon is a basketball coach and trainer who runs Defend Your Legacy Basketball in South L.A. She is also the clinic director for the Los Angeles Sparks “Jr. Sparks” program.

Dixon has had the “Drive to the Basket” food drive in December for the last few years. This year she linked directly with South L.A. native and Sparks forward Reshanda Gray, who was planning her own toy drive this month.

“Last year when we partnered, Gray was (playing basketball) overseas,” Dixon said. “We did a food drive and connected it to a basketball clinic.”

This year they brought in Luther Keith Jr. of the Central Urban Mission, who does gang intervention, counseling and assistance with job placement. Keith solicited donations from food banks in Watts and downtown to use for the food drive.

Gray, who was a standout player at Washington Prep High School, insisted on making toys a part of the annual event.

“The toys were a last-minute addition,” Dixon said. “Gray felt strongly about making sure kids have something of their own.”

But Gray didn’t use what she had been collecting over the last three weeks. Instead, she dug into her pockets.

“She donated 50 backpacks,” Dixon said. “Every one of them had a toy, a $10 gift card, a water bottle, hand sanitizer, Kleenex and some candy in it.”

The Sparks stepped in and donated dozens of pairs of shoes, and others donated more toys and clothing.

In three hours, the small crew of volunteers at Central Baptist Church in Inglewood had given all of it away.

“I was overwhelmed,” Dixon said. “It was a perfect balance of giving and receiving.”

Gray was unable to attend the event because she had tested positive for COVIND-19, but she said it meant a lot to her to be able to help people in crisis.

“This is such a hard time – an unprecedented time – and some are in need like never before,” Gray said. “Being able to give a hand to people right now means so much to us.”

As the pandemic has caused businesses and entire industries to shut down, almost 25 million people have lost their jobs this year. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that the majority of those jobs are low and medium-wage jobs, which has disproportionately affected Blacks and Latinos.

Unemployment is at 10.4% for Blacks, and 8.3% for Latinos, compared to 5.9% for whites.

As a result, many in South L.A. are struggling to pay rent or mortgage and are unable to pay bills or sufficient food. The center estimates that 13% of adults in the U.S. — 27 million people — report that those in their households don’t get enough to eat.

Sue Favor is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers, who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at