At a California Toy Store, Kids Play Santa for the Homeless

updated 12/18/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/18/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

The tiny shop looks more like a playroom than a classroom, but the young customers of Linda Schrobilgen's Where Kids Shop toy store are learning a lesson. "Did you know that Santa Claus doesn't know where to find some children?" Schrobilgen, 46, asks two young girls who are feverishly making greeting cards. "You can help those children here. Would you like to help out?" The girls nod and smile, new recruits in an army of tiny soldiers against homelessness.

Here, in a place born of compassion for children far too poor to shop there, the emphasis is on giving instead of getting. All the proceeds from the holiday store in suburban L.A.'s West Covina Fashion Plaza will go to two local organizations that care for homeless children. But just as important, says Schrobilgen, is the chance to teach young people about the problems of homelessness. "This is where awareness begins, at the grass-roots level," explains Schrobilgen, a mother of two who decided to forsake temporarily her larger store in the mall and open this one after she attended last fall's massive Housing Now! march in Washington, D.C.

When Schrobilgen's father, mall owner Sylvan Shulman, heard of his daughter's plans for a charitable kids' toy shop, he offered to donate the space and cash to stock it. "The problem of homelessness is there, so somebody has to deal with it," says Shulman, 73. "I might as well share what I have." And that's a message the shopkeeper wants to give to her patrons, some of whom are catching on. Says 3-year-old Dominic Cacioppo as he toddles toward the cash register clutching a toy airplane: "I'm going to help the kids with no food and houses." In the back of the store, buzzing youngsters create greeting cards with messages like MERRY CHRISTMAS AND MAY SOMEONE HELP YOU for the homeless children who will receive the store's unsold merchandise, as well as 700 teddy bears donated by Schrobilgen, shortly before Christmas.

"At the march, we were told that in five to 10 years, if this trend continues, one out of two homeless people in America will be a child," says Schrobilgen. "We just want to get the message out."

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