Miami in Miami Fall 2019 Service Project: Juliana Pereira

Holiday Toy and Food Drive

For the 4th consecutive year, Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Church’s Brazilian Community organizes a holiday toy and food drive. This was the second year I worked hands-on throughout the full process. On the first Sunday of November, we announce the start of our annual project.

Mexican immigrants come to Homestead temporarily to work in the harvest. Their stay can prolong from 2 months to over a year. They mainly work during, “the [tomato] harvest season extends from December to May” (Y. C. Li, Tomato Production in Miami-Dade County, Florida). When it rains heavy, they may stay days without working. Their pay is just enough to keep the themselves clothed and fed. These immigrants all live in a community near the fields. Many families bring their children with them. While the parents are working all day long, the kids need to go to school. Some children are old enough to attend a primary or secondary public school. But the younger kids – 2 months old to 5 years old – stay at a daycare within the community.

We partner with 4 of these daycares to bring some Christmas joy! These are non-profit daycares made up of volunteer administrators, teachers, and janitors. They provide free breakfast and lunch to the kids. Every year we get a list of approximately 150 kids from all 4 daycares combined. Sometimes this is their first time in Homestead, others have returned year after year.

At church, everyone “adopts” 1-3 children. We provide them with each child’s name, age, clothes and shoe sizes, and something they are interested in (Frozen, soccer, reading, Spider-Man, etc.) We ask that the gift consists of a complete set of clothes, shoes, and a toy. Several people go above and beyond with bicycles and pretty dresses. All gifts must be wrapped and labeled correctly. Throughout November we collect these gifts every Sunday at church. The first week of December, we inspect all the gifts to ensure that it is complete, appropriate, and labeled.

In addition to the gifts for the kids, we collect staple food items to put together a basket for the families and teachers. We ask for donations of canned goods, rice, beans, flour, oil, salt, sugar, coffee, pasta, sauce. Of course, many also include delicious treats, such as cookies, candy, cereal, crackers, juice boxes, soda, and much more. We collect these items throughout November as well. In the beginning of December, we sort the items to verify they are sealed and within expiration date. Then we package the items in boxes and baskets.

One week before Christmas we deliver the gifts. We separate the presents by school and classroom. A group of 10 to 15 people join to load up approximately 5 SUVs and mini-vans full of gift bags, baskets, and boxes. We drive to each school together. We have a Santa Clause who carries all the gifts in a big bag on his back with the help of his elves (me!). When we enter the classrooms, all the kids glare at us incredibly. Some start to cry, but most of them run to hug Santa. That’s the most beautiful part of the project. Seeing their little faces glow, their eyes widen, and their smiles stretch. I call out their names and they scurry to grab their gift and take a picture on Santa’s lap.

Unfortunately, since we have to go to 4 different schools, we are not able to stay to meet the parents and personally give them the food baskets. Nevertheless, the directors of each school always tell us how grateful the parents are for our project. Often, Americans are the first to give a hand to those in need overseas, but they forget to look at what is going on in our own backyard. Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust have surveyed that, “…3,628 people are experiencing homelessness in Miami-Dade County” (Mozloom). There are several people in need right here in Miami. We do not need to go too far to help someone in need. During this holiday season, we have this concrete act of kindness as a religious community, but this has helped inspire many individuals to continue helping others all year long. As I continue through my last year of college, I want to dedicate more of my time towards my community. Amidst all the stress from finals, this project has always helped me feel good. It helped me stop worrying about my insignificant problems and see what the real struggle is. I have so much to be thankful for and so much to give!

Works Cited

Mozloom, Lisa. “Affordable housing critical to maintaining downward trend of street homelessness in Miami-Dade County.” 20 February 2019. Miami-Dade County Homeless Trust News Release. Document.

Y. C. Li, W. Klassen, Mary Lamberts, Teresa Olczyk, and Guodong Liu. “Tomato Production in Miami-Dade County, Florida.” November 2017. University of Florida IFAS Extension. Document.

Leave a Reply