“Van-A-Claus” doesn’t let Grinches steal Christmas

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – The community helped to replace hundreds of toys stolen, just in time for a gift event. Across Monroe County Santa’s elves helped replace hundreds of toys that two Grinches stole from the back of a van this week.

That van belongs to, Evangela Stanley, the owner of People’s Choice Kitchen. For the last three years Stanley has put on her “Angel Tree Event” to give out gifts to kids in her neighborhood.

Saturday afternoon, over 300 kids lined up in the parking lot of the old Walgreen’s location on Thurston Road. Every child who showed up, took presents home to put under their tree, and it’s all because the community didn’t let the Grinch steal Christmas.

Saturday morning, before the event, Wegmans bought new toys for Stanley, to replace what was stolen.

Stanley: Wegmans, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, it means the world to me.

Wegmans Staff: Merry Christmas, Van.

Stanley: Wegmans saved me, they rescued me when my van was vandalized and my toys were stolen.

Toys were placed along tables and bags. They were labeled by age. From babies to teens. Santa made an early trip to Rochester and handed some out. Mrs. Claus couldn’t make it so Evangela, or “Van-A-Claus” filled in.

She and Santa entered the event by sleigh. Stanley says it took many partners in the community to make this possible, and everyone who helped, stayed to hand out gifts.

“RPD, Gates Police, Monroe County Sheriff’s, owner of Salvatore’s, they’re always there for me, Pirate Toy Fund, oh my gosh they made this possible, my customers brought in toys when they heard my story,” Stanley said.

For Stanley, the word “community” means everything.

“This community here is very challenged right now, as far as poverty, they live paycheck to paycheck and even COVID, so for us to be able to pull this off after everything is just amazing.”

Stanley says she hopes the Grinches who stole the toys can find their heart and come forward. Even if that doesn’t happen, “Van-A-Claus” will always prevail.

“I’m just at a loss for words, I can’t even express how happy and thrilled I am, to put smiles on these kids’ faces, this is what it’s all about, this is why I get up and go to work every day to find was to give back to my community.”

Stanley’s van was parked in her driveway in Gates Tuesday night when it was broken into. Gates police say her van was one of many in the Lyell Avenue area broken into.

Police are still searching for the suspects.