Toy Drive, Food Drive, Everything Drive

Maybe you can help? It’s getting to be that time of year
BY: TOM EMANUEL

What were your Christmases like when you were growing up? Were they religious or pretty secular, or a combination of both? Were you lucky enough to have wealthy or middle class parents who were into Christmas, the house all decorated beautifully with every sign of the season, a bunch of incredibly tantalizing presents under the huge (to little eyes) tree glittering with lights and ornaments? Did you personally get multiple presents under a real Christmas tree, smelling so fresh and tangy with pine?

Yeah. For me those were great times that I still think about fondly, especially this time of year. And I get just a little misty when I think of the wide-eyed wonder in my little daughter’s eyes back some 40 years ago as we reproduced those magic Christmas mornings for her. I was lucky, and she was lucky too. She had parents who could afford to lavish her with at least some of her greatest childhood desires.

Last year a group of about 20 people, calling themselves Helping Hands, and led by a guy named Lou Martinez, tried to bring some of that hope and cheer to a really poor neighborhood called El Canyon de Cordero (the canyon of the lamb). Rosarito is actually very large. It extends well beyond just the coastal areas with which most Americans are familiar. The barrio extends several miles up into the hills east of the downtown area. Some of these neighborhoods are not too bad to live in. Some of them are down right depressing. El Canyon de Cordero, the Canyon of the Lamb, sounds sweet. It isn’t.

This is a neighborhood in which many of the houses are made of pallets or scrap boards held together with a few nails and sometimes chicken wire. The roofs are typically plastic or old tarps laid over a couple of beams and held down by worn out tires. Doors and windows are flimsy and there may or may not be a floor. When it rains the mud is ankle deep between the houses and just as bad in the streets because the roads are not paved. El Nino promises to be very cruel to these people this year.

Mr. Martinez happened to be passing through the neighborhood in October of last year where he saw kids playing with wooden blocks for toys. He himself grew up poor so he knew what it was like to live in that kind of desperation. He decided then and there that he had to do something. He and Billy Ray Clark talked about it and became the founders of Helping Hands.

Last year Helping Hands adopted the neighborhood and tried to make Christmas time a tiny bit easier for the people there.  Lou went door to door with fliers telling the people that there would be a toy and clothing drive and that they were to come with their children to the local outdoor basketball court. The community has a court surrounded by half height concrete walls fenced on top with chain link. The hoops have no nets and there are no basketballs to be seen, but it was a place to meet that everybody knew.

Lou’s son, Andre Martinez and his girlfriend, a chef, raised $650 by holding a food tasting festival in Morro Bay California.. All proceeds went to the clothing drive. They used the money to buy a great deal of rice, beans and cooking oil, delivering it to Mexico. Many other people contributed small amounts of money and piles of clothing for both kids and adults. The total money gifts were slightly more than $1,300. They used a lot of the money to buy boxes of dolls, toys for boys, school supplies, and many other things from Waldo’s. Waldo’s was very generous with their pricing, giving much of it away at or below cost. The same was true of El Vaquero, a segunda (second hand store), in the northern part of Rosarito.

A woman named Eileen devastated Las Gaviotas, talking all her neighbors into giving up car loads of clothing for both kids and adults. John and Haley Dawson, owners of Baja Storage on the east side of the free road at Km 40, donated storage areas where all of this stuff could be kept until the big day. The Red Cross donated toys and clothes from their outlet store just east of Waldo’s on the same side of the street. Many others donated cash or volunteered in some way. All in all it was a wonderful event serving over 400 kids and adults. Santa, (a volunteer in a traditional red suit), gave out toys until he was literally exhausted.

This year Helping Hands is planning to do it all over again but in a bigger way and they are asking for your help. The goal is to raise at least $2,000 and to get tons of donations of important items.  They would like toys, clothing for adults and kids, shoes, blankets, bedding, household items, food items, and non-prescription medicines such as ibuprofen, cough syrup, even bandaids. The toys do not have to be wrapped but they should be new.

If you can help, call Lou Martinez at 661-110-3038 or just show up at Baja Storage with your items and tell them it’s for the Christmas drive for Helping Hands. They would love to have you participate as well by getting your friends and neighbors involved, or volunteering at the event, which will take place on Sunday, December 20th.