Calif. FFs, community save Christmas toy giveaway after church fire
A two-alarm fire destroyed the Los Angeles County church that had collected Christmas toys for local children
By Mona Darwish, Mercedes Cannon-Tran
Los Angeles Daily News
POMONA, Calif. — Just hours before a big Christmas toy giveaway and a play was to be performed on Sunday, a decades-old church in Pomona was consumed by a raging fire.
Victory Outreach Pomona, which prides itself on helping those in need, was a total loss.
“We rushed over there and watched it go down right in front of our eyes,” said Victory Outreach Pastor Jerry Orozco, who was awakened by a call about the blaze around 2:40 a.m.
Over 500 people had registered for a children’s toy drive planned at the church Sunday evening, Dec. 17 , along with a Polar Express-themed play called ‘Believe’, which church members had been practicing for weeks.
But by midday Sunday, folks came out in force from around the region to help the 40-year-old church.
Toys poured in from neighboring churches, including Abundant Living, The Way, and Calvary Chapel of Upland. The California Highway Patrol donated around 100 toys. A local low-rider car club, Southern Life, got involved. The Los Angeles County Fire Department teamed up with ABC7 and delivered another 500 toys.
“No child should have to go through the holidays without,” said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Anthony Marrone. “So we called ABC7 and we got the group together to deliver 500 toys not only to the kids in Victory Outreach, but to the kids in the community.”
‘Everyone here was just in tears’
Shortly before 3 a.m., around 100 firefighters responded to the church at 177 W. Monterey Ave. They knocked down the blaze just past 6 a.m. according to a fire dispatcher.
“It was sad to see, so many lives had been touched in that church,” said Orozco, a pastor with the church for 17 years. “I looked into our foyer and it brought so many memories of so many families that walked through those doors, that we invited through different types of outreaches, and how God has made a big impact in the lives of the community.”
Robert Duran a 30-year church member, said he got the call about the fire at 3 a.m. He rushed to the scene.
“Everyone here was just in tears,” Duran said. “I cried. All the bulldozers were knocking down walls. The people were still broken. You could just hear another wall come down.”
The church was filled with heavy smoke and fire as firefighters arrived and began to conduct an aggressive attack inside the church, Los Angeles County Fire Capt. Sheila Kelliher-Berkoh said.
“We went in there trying to save the building and we did everything we could to save it,” she said.
But after about 20 minutes, she said, the second-alarm fire expanded to a common attic stretching across the church, causing the roof to collapse, and leading firefighters to scramble outside and go into defensive operation. Despite their best efforts, the 12,000-square-foot church was destroyed by the fire.
No injuries were reported and the cause of the fire was under investigation.
Compelled to help
After daybreak, some congregants could be seen gathered near the smoldering ruins, observing the destruction.
A GoFundMe was set up to help the church. It raised more than $11,000 by 6:30 p.m.
“We’re gonna continue to keep moving and keep doing what God’s called us to do and we’re not gonna allow this fire to stop us,” Orozco said.
With the help of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, a toy giveaway would still take place at 5 p.m., in a parking lot across the street from the church.
Church members and volunteers were busy pulling it together on Sunday afternoon.
“We’re still going to do what the Lord intended us to do,” said children’s ministry teacher Diana Lopez, a member of the church for 22 years. “We put it out there, and we started getting a lot of messages, and we wanted to let the community know that we’re still here.”
Marlene Gonzales of Montclair, who had previously attended Victory Outreach, saw that the church burned down on the news. She, too, felt compelled to help.
“I was thinking we had so many toys so I asked my kids to pick some to donate. I thought this would be a good opportunity to teach my kids about giving back,” she said.
“It’s a sad day, but when I look around me, and I see the community coming together to be here to support the Victory Outreach Church, it’s a true representation of the resiliency of this community and compassion,” Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval said.
“Nobody was injured. Nobody was killed,” he said. “And the church will be rebuilt.”