Walking into the Alameda County courtroom, lugging a bag of donated toys, 8-year-old Colin Lambert thought about the kids who come to this room, scared and alone.
Colin and his sister Taryn were the driving force behind a recent toy drive that raised more than 3,000 toys for children who visit Alameda County courthouses for custody hearings.
"They said they felt sad and lonely and they didn't have much to hang onto," Colin said lawyers at the courthouse explained while dropping off the toys. "It makes me feel good that we're helping them."
Colin, a Walnut Grove Elementary student, and Taryn, a Harvest Park Middle student, rallied students at Walnut Grove to raise bags of toys for children, which they delivered Feb. 10. This is the third year the duo has run a toy drive through their at-home donation project, Bears that Care, their mom Kerry Lambert said.
Children who come to the county courthouse in Oakland or San Leandro are often frightened, uprooted and sometimes alone. Hearings sometimes decide whether a child will stay under the care of their parents or will go into the protection of the state as a result of abuse, neglect or if their parents are unable to care for them.
When a child comes into a courtroom, the judge will smile and talk with the child, offering them a book and a toy from a display in the courtroom for them to keep.
"I see kids who come in, and they're often so scared and really so alone. They may have lost everything. They may have lost everything they know," Lambert said. "By the judge giving them a toy, it makes the process seem less scary."
Lambert said her children were cleaning out their closets to donate toys to the courtroom at their mom's insistence when they decided to make the chore a schoolwide project, said Lambert, who is often working at the Alameda County courthouse as a Child Protective Services court officer.
"'If we were able to do this much just cleaning out our closets, what would it look like if we got all of Walnut Grove to clean out their closets?'" she recalled her kids saying.
"We saw that we weren't playing with them and we didn't need them, so we thought that some of the kids would really like them," Taryn said.
The first year, they raised about 700 toys, and they raised about 400 the second year. This year, a gaggle of Walnut Grove students delivered 3,972 toys to the three Alameda County dependency courtrooms.
"We want to do the toy drive next year and we're hoping to make it a non-profit so we can do things for the other kids," Colin said.