Just before Christmas, the 10400 block of Kling Street in Toluca Lake transforms into a winter wonderland. “We moved to Kling Street back in 2014, and that first Christmas Eve morning I awoke, looked out my window and saw our neighbors’ house with snow on the lawn, kids sledding, children selling coffee and pastries, and all our neighbors walking by to visit,” remembers Laura Scuticchio. “That’s when I knew we had found an extraordinary neighborhood.”
This annual fundraising event is extraordinary in many ways — its longevity, 15 years and counting; its organizers and volunteers, made up of more than 60 children and family members collectively known as the Kling Street Kids; and its positive impact, having generated a total of more than $182,000 for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Above all, it’s a community phenomenon that brings local residents and businesses together for a good cause, with plenty of fun along the way.
“I absolutely think Kling Street Kids is a perfect representation of Toluca Lake,” says Cady Stark, the event’s co-founder. “It showcases the close-knit community that is just as engaged and passionate about the holiday season as it is about giving back and charity. It is amazing to live in as big a city as Los Angeles, but still find a neighborhood that is so connected and supportive of one another.”
Kling Street Kids began in 2002, when Cady and her older sister, Callie, were just 7 and 9 years old. Wanting to help cheer up children who had to spend the holiday season sick in the hospital, they considered raising money by hosting a lemonade stand, but their parents encouraged them to think bigger. With a couple of neighborhood friends, the girls organized a two-day bake sale offering coffee (donated by the local Starbucks), doughnuts, hot chocolate and pizza, which collected more than $500 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. The next year, Krispy Kreme and Trader Joe’s also contributed, and the kids nearly quadrupled their fundraising. They decided to give the money to Children’s Hospital and began a new tradition of visiting on Christmas Eve to deliver the donations directly. This is always the highlight of the day, says Cady. “We’ve seen a lot of friends and family affected by sickness, so it is really rewarding to be able to bring some light to people in a pretty dark place.”
Kling Street Kids has grown year by year, with additions including a host of sponsors, a silent auction, 10 tons of snow, live music, train rides, face painting, homemade baked goods and holiday gifts, and the opportunity to sponsor a stuffed animal and write a personal note for a child spending the holidays at Children’s Hospital. The event has been recognized with an array of awards, featured widely in the media, and attended by celebrities and dignitaries. Yet its core focus remains “Kids Helping Kids.” With the original “kids” now young adults moving on to college and careers, the Starks are passing the reins to a new generation of neighbors. The Scuticchio, Barron and Davis families have taken on the responsibility of planning, coordinating, securing donations and getting the word out, a process that typically begins as early as September.
Cady says that organizing Kling Street Kids has taught her “hard work, leadership, patience and appreciation,” and the neighborhood parents agree it’s been an invaluable experience for their children. “One of my favorite parts is watching the kids get so involved and excited about volunteering to help run the event,” says Kara Barron, whose family has participated since 2015. “Giving back to the community and being part of something bigger — this is something that I always wanted to teach my kids and share with them.”
The lessons extend both ways, says Cady and Callie’s father, Steve Stark. “Thanks to this event and my children, I know all of our neighbors. I can’t tell you how many people I meet every year who tell me that they’ve been bringing their kids to this event for over a decade and have watched their children grow up here.”
For 2017, the Kling Street Kids are consolidating the event into a single super-sized day on December 23 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., which will be full of familiar favorites and new surprises. All are welcome to volunteer or attend; visit www.klingstreetkids.org for details.