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On Friday, November 5, members of both Houston Dynamo FC and the Houston Dash helped kick off the Houston Fire Department’s (HFD) annual Operation Stocking Stuffer holiday toy drive. The event, which took place at Fire Station Eight, featured members of the fire department, representatives from the organization’s corporate partners and the daughter of the initiative’s founder, Sharae Young. 

Houston Dynamo FC was represented at the event by defender and MLS Humanitarian of the Year nominee Zarek Valentin and Dash forward Veronica Latsko. For Latsko, initiatives such as this one is important to her as an athlete. 

“It’s surreal. Even just seeing all of the people that are involved,” Latsko said. “It’s so impressive and to be a part of this organization with all of these incredible people is unreal. Seeing the founder’s daughter come up and talk about how important the gifts are for all the families that we impact was incredible.” 

Young spoke about the legacy of Operation Stocking Stuffer, which began over 30 years ago by her mother Lorugene Young, a former Houston-area public school teacher. This year’s toys will be distributed on December 18 at a socially distant drive-thru event at 9 a.m. at Dick Graves Park, located at 2000 Reed Road Houston Texas 77051. 

Last year, Operation Stocking Stuffer helped deliver toys to more than 7,000 families. This year, HFD has laid out its most ambitious goal yet, to assist between 7,000 and 10,000 families, which would include over 30,000 children.  

Houston Fire Chief Sam Peña spoke at the event, and discussed the impact that this toy drive has on the community. 

“This is an opportunity for us, the Houston Fire Department, to give back to our community,” Peña said. “To do our part to provide a little happiness and brightness to thousands of families and children who would not otherwise be able to afford gifts this Christmas season. These last two years have been challenging for all of us. There are families that are hurting more than others. And it is our hope that we will be able to bring a little joy to their lives this Christmas season.” 

Sheldra Brigham, a member of the non-profit board that sponsors the toy drive, said that support from community partners such as the Dynamo and Dash makes a world of difference for the fire department’s efforts. 

“We’re so excited to have the Dynamo participate with us this year. It really rounds out our efforts in the community,” Brigham said. “For them to be included as a sponsor and for folks to see all different elements and all different types of sponsors come forward to support this event really shows how we’re banding together as Houstonians.” 

This year’s drive will comply with social distancing regulations due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In order to donate toys or funds, links can be found at http://www.osstoydrive.com.