The annual Richmond/El Cerrito Firefighters Toy Program is seeking some last-minute help in reaching 1,700 families with disadvantaged children in an area that includes Rodeo, Crockett, Pinole, Hercules, San Pablo, El Sobrante, Richmond, El Cerrito, Kensington and Albany.

The program's distribution of toys is set for Dec. 21 and donations are lagging. "We're always scrambling, trying to get toys, but somehow we do it every year," said El Cerrito firefighter Rob Murphy. "This year has been especially hard because we have one less weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas."

The program, which works in partnership with the Richmond Police Department's Food Basket Program and the Coronado YMCA in Richmond, will reach more than 5,000 children, Murphy said.

Donations are needed of new, unwrapped toys and games for ages 0 to 12 years, as well as monetary contributions.

Toys should be of a "non-violent nature," Murphy said, meaning no pretend guns, swords, knives and the like.

Donations can be made at any fire station in West Contra Costa, and there are also drop-off locations in El Cerrito at City Hall, 10890 San Pablo Ave.; the Community Center, 7007 Moeser Lane; Marty's Motors, 10929 San Pablo Ave.; and the Stege Sanitary District Offices, 7500 Schmidt Lane; as well as Mechanics Bank branch at 279 Arlington Ave. in Kensington.

For more details visit www.toyprogram.org.

CLUB OFFERS REWARD: A local business has come forward with a donation to replace $6,000 that was stolen Nov. 10 along with a safe at the Boys & Girls Club of El Sobrante.

Mike's Auto Body, which has locations around Contra Costa County, presented a check to the community organization that provides low-cost services and a safe place for young people.

Sal Contreras, sales and marketing director for the chain of auto body repair shops, made the presentation of a check and noted that he was a member of the Richmond Boys & Girls Club growing up.

A suspect has been arrested in the El Sobrante theft and officials of the club are continuing to offer a $1,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons responsible.

"We are still in need of more information to help secure a conviction in the case," said Billy Zeier, executive director of the El Sobrante Boys & Girls Club. Anyone willing to offer information can contact the club at 510-223-5253 or wzeier@gmail.com.

RICHMOND LANDS LITERACY GRANT: The volunteer program Richmond ESC (Excellence Serving our Community) has been awarded a $100,000 Cities of Service (www.citiesofservice.org) Impact Volunteering Fund grant that will be used to recruit and train people from the community as writing and literacy coaches serving some 175 high school students and 150 elementary school students.

The city, one of 23 in the United States selected for a grant out of a record number that applied, received a $25,000 award last year from the program that was used to train volunteer writing coaches at Richmond High School through the WriterCoach Connection program.

"Richmond has once again partnered with Community Alliance for Learning to continue the WriterCoach Connection program at Richmond High School and to expand the program to John F. Kennedy High School," the city announced this week. "Two local organizations, Read Aloud Volunteer Program and Bring Me a Book, are added partners to help lead the initiative within local elementary schools."

"Everyone wins when we pool our resources like this," said WriterCoach Connection Executive Director Robert Menzimer, citing bonds formed by volunteers with schools and the individual attention and guidance received by students in building their writing and critical thinking skills.

Details: www.richmondvolunteers.org.

WEST COUNTY NOTES: The Berkeley chapter of the United Nations Association has served the community since 1964, even though it has had to periodically change locations. The chapter is currently in the former Center for Independent Living site at 2539 Telegraph Ave., it offers a selection of holiday cards and fair trade gifts for sale, but recently learned it will again have to find a new home. Details: www.unausaeastbay.org or 510-849-1752.

  • Down Home Music, 10341 San Pablo Ave. in El Cerrito, hosts a free performance by the Amigos Band at 2 p.m. Dec. 21.

    Contact Chris Treadway at 510-262-2784 or ctreadway@bayareanewsgroup.com.