Paying it forward

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Fresno_ToysForTots_kids1-wIn 2012 my husband Salvador Hernandez was laid off from work and I was a stay at home mom with no income. After joining The Niner Empire of Fresno we were able to volunteer at The Holy Cross Center.

It was there that we met some very wonderful people. They got to know my husband, myself and my kids and always welcomed us with open arms. After learning that my husband wasn’t working they were concerned about how we were going to provide Christmas presents to our kids since money was tight. Unbeknownst to us they had signed up our kids for gifts from Toys for Tots.

It was such an amazing feeling to know that my kids were not going to experience the pain of not having gifts on Christmas. In the months leading to the next years Christmas (2013) I thought it would be a great experience to give back to someone in need just like it was done for my family. So I proposed the idea of a toy drive to the committee. I’ll admit they weren’t to fond of the idea due to a concern of there not being a good turnout or enough participation from members.

Fresno_ToysForTots_santa_kids1-wBut I went out on a limb & contacted Toys for Tots just to get a general idea of what goes into doing a toy drive. That’s when I met Virginia Cardinal… She’s the Coordinator of Toys for Tots Fresno County. She was excited to work with us & her excitement fueled my desire to keep pushing the idea on the committee. I was able to get 1 committee member on board (Raul Madrigal) and even his wife (Stephanie Madrigal). Together we decided on a date, a location, made a flier & posted it on Facebook to see how many members were interested. To our surprise there were lots!

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We passed out 100+ fliers the week before at the Fresno Downtown Christmas Parade. Finally the day of… beyond nervous but very excited we set up on the corner of Shaw & Blackstone at Yosemite Falls Cafe. They offered free coffee to anyone who donated & encouraged their customers to donate. We had so many people come through it was an overwhelming experience. There was a boy who donated all his birthday presents & so many other kids who had the biggest smiles knowing they were going to help another kid. Our total count that year was 500 toys & $400+ in cash. Following year (2014) the committee was completely on board & had decided we would make it an annual event. Same process… Location, date, line up volunteers & make fliers/share on Facebook. Despite the fact it was the same weekend as the Fresno parade we collected 300+ toys & about the same in cash.

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Fast forward to this year… Toys for Tots was impressed with our work over the years & the coordinator came to me with some opportunities we couldn’t pass up. The first one was the chance to sponsor a school for toy signups. We made a flier for the school to pass out once they gave us the ok. And had families contact us to sign up their kids. We had 50 families with 2-5 children in each family. We gave our count to Toys for Tots & they provided all the toys. The second opportunity was our logo on their box. Normally a $5,000 buy in & they gave it to us for free! Every single box made for Fresno County has Niner Empire Fresno on it! This time we chose a two day drive… Same location as the last 2 years. We had lots of members & their kids come & participate. From 8am-2pm we danced, shouted, held signs, waved and rang bells to get peoples attention & it worked. We collected 325 toys & $300+ in cash which is actually doubled in value when Toys for Tots shops for toys. This has and continues to be an awesome experience.

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With my husband & my kids by my side & my Niner Empire Fresno family I will continue to do this each year. Our motto is Enriching the community one child at a time & I truly believe that’s what we’re doing with our toy drive every year. If it weren’t for the many members who supported me from the start & the committee who seen my determination & gave me the ok, I couldn’t have made it possible.

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