When Kevin Garcia saw a high-school classmate sitting by herself during lunch, he sat with her. When a hurricane was headed toward South Florida, he went to put the shutters on his grandparents’ home. And when a family friend’s 5-year-old son was trying to build a sandcastle, the teenager squatted next to the child to help.
“That’s how Kevin was. He had just a joy for people and cared about people,” said Maria Fiallo, Kevin’s mother.
Kevin died Dec. 9, 2008, in a car crash. He was 17.
To memorialize Kevin, his family created the Kevin Garcia Foundation. Since its inception, the foundation has donated countless toys, helped bring children to South Florida from abroad for life-saving and life-changing surgery, and awarded scholarships to high school students headed to college.
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Each of the foundation’s endeavors reflects Kevin’s kindness and humanity.
He was good with children, said Maria Fiallo, 56. So his family asked for toys, instead of flowers, for his funeral. More than a truckload of toys were given to patients at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood, part of Memorial Healthcare System, where Kevin was admitted.
That was the start of the Kevin Garcia Foundation.
Every year, about a week before Christmas, Jerry Wilcox, a friend of the Fiallos, dresses up as Santa Claus and calls up each child at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital’s outpatient clinic asking what he or she wants for Christmas.
“There’s always a kid who’s like, ‘I wish I had a bike,’ ” Maria Fiallo said. “They can’t imagine they are going into a hospital and are going to walk out with a bicycle and a helmet.”
The foundation has given about $60,000 to Jackson Health Foundation’s International Kids Fund (Wonderfund), which helps critically ill children from around the world gain access to necessary surgery at Holtz Children’s Hospital at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, as well as at other South Florida hospitals.
Among them is Nicolly Pereira, a Brazilian toddler who was diagnosed with pediatric glaucoma, a condition that left her blind. In addition, Nicolly couldn’t hear because of fluid buildup in her inner ear. She didn’t walk or talk. After eye and ear surgeries earlier this year, things came together for Nicolly.
The Fiallos — Maria and Carlos, who is Kevin’s stepfather — become an aunt and uncle of sorts to the children whom they help bring to South Florida for surgery. Maria Fiallo spent almost every day with Nicolly and Daiana Pereira, Nicolly’s mother, during their stay in South Florida.
Recently, Maria Fiallo saw a video on Facebook of Nicolly eating toast and watching a cartoon. “I’m beside myself for this girl,” she said. “Kevin made all this happen.”
Carlos Fiallo, 53, echoed the sentiment.
“If it wasn’t for Kevin … we would have never done what we did. It’s just a pleasure to help all these kids,” he said.
The Kevin Garcia Foundation is planning to give $10,000 to the International Kids Fund in April.
All the work, from collections to giving, is grassroots.
“I make sure I pick up the toys. I thank everyone personally for the toys. And then we give out the toys,” Maria Fiallo said.
The same goes for the scholarships. The foundation has awarded about $48,500 in merit and athletic scholarships, with committee members — Maria Fiallo and her family — reading all the application essays.
“We’re Kevin’s foundation and Kevin would care about who wrote what and what touched his heart,” said Maria Fiallo, of North Miami Beach.
Kevin also played sports. He was on the swimming and water polo teams at Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines. And, as in other ways in his life, he showed his humility and kindness through sports.
If he lost a swimming competition, he would approach the victor to congratulate him and ask him for pointers, Maria Fiallo said.
“He would just be like, ‘Wow, you did awesome,’ ” she said.
The Kevin Garcia Foundation also has given toys to the Ronald McDonald House, both the Miami-Dade and Broward County locations, and to Centro Mater, a child-care center in Hialeah.
Brian Garcia, one of Kevin’s older brothers, started a KG4 Club at Pembroke Pines Charter High School, where he teaches U.S. history to 11th-graders. It has about 35 members who help with the toy drive and canned-food collections, and at foundation events.
“All of these kids,” Maria Fiallo said, “are motivated by Kevin’s story.”
How to get involved
To donate to the Kevin Garcia Foundation, visit http://kevingarciafoundation.org/annual-toy-drive/. Donations, toys and/or funds can be dropped off or mailed to 2828 Coral Way, Suite 430, Miami, FL 33145.