Program Turns Loaned Toys Into Lasting Joy

There aren't many places 10-year old Miguel Penaloza can play in his tough Los Angeles neighborhood nor toys to play with.

His favorite deck of cards is falling apart.

"Some of them are wet and dirty and ripped," Penaloza told CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker.

But Miguel, who shares a tiny house with seven relatives and sleeps on the couch, knows new toys are a luxury.

"We don't have enough money and the money that we do have, we need to like pay bills and stuff like that," Penaloza said.

"So what's that feel like when you want something and you can't get it?" Whitaker asked Penaloza.

"It feels sort of sad," Penaloza said.

So when the Toy Loan Program opened a center at Penaloza's school, he was one of the first in line.

The program began in Los Angeles 74 years ago during the Depression. Kids borrow toys like books from a library.

They can play with the toy for a week. If it's returned in good condition, they can borrow another. After 20 weeks they can get a big prize - like a dollhouse or a bike - to keep.

"It might help the kids put a smile on their face, which is making me put a smile on my face," toy borrower Deiona McKinney told Whitaker.

Single mom Laura Gomez was unemployed for almost two months. She has a new job, but new toys for her 5-year-old Edgar are out of the question.

"You want to buy them toys that they want, but you know, financially right now, the situation is really bad," Gomez told Whitaker.

The Los Angeles free toy lending program is the oldest in the country with about 45,000 toys in circulation, serving 2,500 kids a month at 50 loan centers. It relies entirely on donations which dropped dramatically in the recession.

At last count, some 3,500 fewer toys were donated while the number of children needing toys jumped by more than 1,400. The program's director hopes more donations will pour in over the holidays.

"The idea of play is so critical in a child's life," Marcia Blachman-Benitez, the program's director, told Whitaker. "That's something that every child is entitled to."

Miguel's new board game: free for a week. The gift of childhood fun: priceless memories for a lifetime.

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On the Web:

Toy Loan Program: http://dpss.lacounty.gov/dpss/toyloan/