Mark McDermott

Mattel’s 12 Days of Play goes worldwide from El Segundo

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Snow fun at Figueroa Elementary with Mattel volunteers at one of last year’s 12 Days of Play. Photo courtesy of Mattel

The snow days began, of all places, in sunny El Segundo.

Two years ago, employees at Mattel headquarters in El Segundo had an idea. The toymaker wanted to do something to brighten the holidays of children throughout Southern California whose families might not have the financial wherewithal for new toys or trips to places with snow.

So Mattel decided to bring the toys, and the snow, to the children. Thus was born the “12 Days of Play” program, which in 2010 first took thousands of toys and tons of snow to inner city Los Angeles schools and has since expanded around the globe to such Mattel locations as Chile, Venezuela, Poland, Spain, and Australia.

And though the program now involves several hundred tons of snow and thousands of Mattel employees fanning out to schools around the world, the idea itself is still a simple one. Let kids play.

“Play is at the very core of development and learning, yet around the world too many children do not have access to play,” said Deidre Lind, executive director of philanthropic programs at Mattel. “The uniqueness of 12 Days of Play is that it brings all Mattel resources together at one time to make an incredible positive social impact.”

Lind said 12 Days of Play arose from what is essentially the company’s mission as toymakers.

“The idea being we do so much during the holiday season to bring happiness, joy, smiles and laughter, and really, the gift of play to children around the world – we wanted to focus those efforts during a specific period of time,” she said.

This year, seven different economically challenged schools throughout the LA area – each one which has a student population that is 100 percent on free or reduced lunch programs – will receive 20,000 toys and snowfall every 15 minutes throughout their special “Winter Wonderland” snow day. A total of 190 tons of snow will fall, and kids will sled, build snowmen, make snow angels, and play at Barbie dress-up stations and Hot Wheels tracks.

The snow days will take place Dec. 3 to Dec. 16 in schools in downtown Los Angeles, Watts, Hawthorne, Palms, and Westmont. On Dec. 15, several hundred kids will be bussed to the Mattel campus in El Segundo for a special Winter Wonderland at which the company hopes to make the Guinness Book of World Records for the most snowmen made in an hour. The current record is 1,279, achieved by 350 snowmen-makers on the 18th fairway of a golf course in Utah in 2011.

“We will have an adjudicator from the Guinness Book of World records on hand, and we will have about 1,000 employees and 400 kids from the inner city ready to take on the challenge,” Lind said. “It’s playful, right?”

As 12 Days of Play expands, something sort of magical has occurred within Mattel’s already playful culture – over 90 percent of employees are now volunteering for the program. Employees, Lind said, reconnect with what originally inspired many to join the toy-making industry.

“I’ll tell you, one of the most common refrains I hear from our employees who participate here in El Segundo or throughout the world – because this is happening in more than 20 locations around the world – is they get more than the give,” she said. “The emotional exchange, the positive interaction, the joy that one gets from getting to play is so rewarding that it inspires those employees to feel good about the place they work, to feel good about the team they work with. It really is quite astounding to watch.”



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