When Louis Fonseca realized that Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez had never had his own toy drive, he thought it would be a good idea to make the proposal and create the Mayor's Annual Holiday Toy Drive.
On Dec. 9, the event celebrated its fourth anniversary at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, where guests were encouraged to donate toys or money.
"I'm happy to lend my name to it, and so I'm really happy with the turn-out," said Gimenez. "Some needy kids are going to get toys this Christmas, and that's what it's all about."
The Mayor's Annual Toy Drive is an event that looks to collect gifts for at-risk children living in underprivileged communities and victims of domestic or sexual violence in Miami-Dade County.
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The event began in 2012 on a smaller scale and has consecutively grown through the years, along with their main goal: collecting toys. This year, the toy drive had an attendance of 700 people, who donated more than 2,000 toys.
"From the Irie Foundation side, we are going with our partners, Big Brothers Big Sisters," said Kyle Post, director of operations and programs for the Irie Foundation. "We will donate the toys over to them and they distribute them out to the kids at a holiday party that they are having next week."
Started by DJ Irie, the Irie Foundation focuses on supporting “at-risk youth” by promoting a better education and future for them. Throughout the year, they work on outreach programs to teach, mentor and grant scholarships to kids and teens.
"We've seen the event grow from day one," said Manny Vadillo, chief legal officer who represents DJ Irie and has been part of the host commitee of the toy drive for the last four years. "Although I think it's a competitive time of the year for this event, I think that the focus is the kids and as long as everybody stays with that in the forefront, then it's been growing and it's been working."
Half of the toys collected go to the Irie Foundation, and the other half go to the University of Miami Child Protection Teams.
Established within the University of Miami School of Medicine, the Miami Child Protection Teams assist with detecting and investigating suspected cases of child abuse in the county.
Dr. Walter F. Lambert, medical director of the University of Miami Child Protection Teams, works along pediatricians, nurses, caseworkers and psychologists in the evaluation of every case.
"We depend on this time of the year to supply a whole year's worth of toys for our program," Dr. Lambert, said.
When a child is brought in for suspected abuse, they are submitted into psychological and physical tests, as well as questioning, and then they are allowed to pick a toy.
"The objective of the toy is so that the child feels better after having some invasive medical procedures," said Michelle Hernandez, licensed mental health counselor, who also works with the child protection teams.
The toy drive welcomed guests to enjoy drinks and a buffet along with the mayor, who greeted attendees with a speech. Guests were also invited to join a silent auction for two bicycles, with proceeds also going to the organizations.
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