By: Diana Bello Aristizábal
To say this year was difficult for children is an understatement. They not only stopped going to school, but also learned to live with the constant fear of a virus and, in most cases, with the anxiety of seeing their parents face financial problems.
Despite this, there is no better time of the year to make up for those bad moments than Christmas. A season of family dinners, Christmas events, and, of course, gifts under the tree.
Unfortunately, not all parents can buy toys. Although this has always been the case, this year the number of people who need a helping hand has increased substantially and some families will probably not be able to give their children anything without help.
Today, more than ever, it is a common priority to share with those in need, because even if we feel that our struggles are too much to handle, there’s always someone enduring worse situations.
Luckily, there are many nonprofits in South Florida that collect toys for disadvantaged children. Doral Family Journal spoke with one of them.
Li’l Abner Foundation: Making children smile for over a decade
This foundation was created by Raul Rodriguez in 2009 in a trailer park, located at Miami-Dade County, where there are currently around 3,000 low-income residents.
Raul grew up in that place while being witness of his neighbor’s economic struggles immersed in drugs and other problems. This motivated him to help his community when he became an adult and a father.
“He wanted to set a good example for his children and teach them that not all people has their needs met. His intention was to show them that is important to share what we have with those in a vulnerable situation,” says Francisco Ruiz, director of the foundation.
That’s how he thought about creating the first Thanksgiving batch in the trailer park with the purpose of bringing his community together in a festival filled with food, entertainment, and toys for children.
This idea, which later became a traditional Christmas party, marked the beginning of the foundation that then moved its headquarters to another place while also included new activities.
Today, the foundation also offers children, from kindergarten to twelfth grade, whose families are in financial need, tutoring sessions, and physical activities such as dance, taekwondo, and archery. They can pay a small fee for the services or get them free of charge.
This year the eleventh Thanksgiving batch was to be held. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was canceled and, in replacement, another event called Christmas toy giveaway took place on December 5. It was a drive-thru to collect toys.
But even though this event already passed, there are other opportunities to give toys. Next Sunday, December 20th, as is customary every year, a toys delivery will be made at the foundation’s headquarters that will benefit the nearly 100 children who are part of it.
“We need donations in advance to divide them by age and gender and thus pack them properly. To avoid spreading the coronavirus, children will arrive only to pick up their toy,” Francisco explains.
However, beyond giving toys, offering tutoring classes and sports activities, the foundation has another mission that is just as important. This is the project Disney on Wheels, through which 16 children from Miami-Dade County with special medical needs will visit Disney parks for three days with all expenses covered.
The project was born in 2018 and, since then, every year a group of children who have never visited the parks or have the resources to do so are chosen to travel to Orlando with their families.
“Raul owns a small ambulance company and uses eight ambulances to drive the children because many of them are in wheelchairs, need oxygen, or are in tubes,” explains Francisco.
According to him, the project is beautiful but sad at the same time. “The first year we traveled, one of the children died a week after returning. Her parents told us that she was waiting to go to Disney before leaving and thanked us for making her wish come true,” Francisco recalls.
The possibility of making their wishes come true and bringing joy to children who are in serious medical conditions is his greatest motivation and his religious values ??the basis on which he guides his actions.
“Raul and I went to a Catholic Christian school where we were taught that we should become people of service and love for others without expecting anything in return. It encourages us to know that the children have reached the next stage of their lives and that we have been a little light for them,” he says.
The next trip, which will be the fourth since the project started, will take place on March 12, 13, and 14, 2021, and the foundation still needs everyone’s financial contribution to make it happen it.
Those who want to donate money or toys to the foundation can contact Francisco at 305-479-5140 or visit www.lilabnerfoundation.com