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Handing out happiness at toy giveaway for farmworker families in Plant City

Two months ago, nonprofit Colectivo Arbol started seeking donations of Legos, puzzles, board games, bikes, dolls and other toys.
Volunteer Consra Rosales helps 8-year-old Kimberlyn Lorenza choose a bike she won during a toy giveaway Wednesday in Plant City for farmworker families and others in need.
Volunteer Consra Rosales helps 8-year-old Kimberlyn Lorenza choose a bike she won during a toy giveaway Wednesday in Plant City for farmworker families and others in need. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Dec. 23, 2021|Updated Dec. 23, 2021

PLANT CITY — It has been a difficult year for Myriam Martinez. More than once she has relied on bags of food donated by charities to feed her family.

Martinez, 30, a single mother from Mexico, also needed help if she were to find any Christmas gifts for her twins, Arlet and Arisbet, 4. So on Wednesday, she brought them to a holiday giveaway called Pintando sonrisas 2021 for more than 100 farmworker families and others in need.

“I really wanted to give something to my children,’’Martinez said. “Seeing them so happy is the best gift for a mother like me.”

Four-year-old twins Arisbet, left, and Arlet Martinez enjoy presents they receive during a toy giveaway Wednesday in Plant City, organized by the farmworker aid group Colectivo Arbol.
Four-year-old twins Arisbet, left, and Arlet Martinez enjoy presents they receive during a toy giveaway Wednesday in Plant City, organized by the farmworker aid group Colectivo Arbol. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The event was held next to a Plant City strawberry field and was organized by Colectivo Arbol, a nonprofit based in Tarpon Springs that helps Florida farmworkers. Two months ago, the organization started seeking donations of Legos, puzzles, board games, bikes, dolls and other toys.

Isaret Jeffers, founder of Colectivo Arbol, said was motivated to organize the first giveaway five years ago by her own life experiences. She remembers one year when there was no money left after paying basic expenses to buy gifts for her two children.

“That year it made a huge impact on me,” Jeffers said, “I don’t want it to happen again to these families.”

Among those who came to the event were Celia Morales, 40, single mother of children Angel, 3, and Lupita, 10. Morales, born in Chiapas, Mexico, was looking for dolls and blocks as she tries to recover from the economic hardships of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It helps us a lot because we don’t have too much money now,” Morales said. “Our kids need some new gifts during Christmas. Why not?”

She smiled broadly at her girls’ excitement.

“My best day ever!” Lupita cried, holding a doll.

Related: Tampa Bay farmworkers receive coronavirus vaccines

Brillyn Cortes, 10, of Plant City, posed for a portrait holding her presents.

“I love Christmas!” she said.

A dozen volunteers helped make the giveaway possible, including photographer Miriam Salgado, of Tampa Palms, who collected dozens of presents from friends and clients, and Hernan Cortes, a Kissimmee attorney who brought more than 30 toys.

The event featured live music by Mariachi Guadalupe of Tampa; face painting by Gabriela Chabolla, also known as clown Payasita Chabollita; and traditional holiday cookies.

Yanelly Sanchez Bautista, 5, gets her face painted by Gabriela Chabolla, also known as clown Payasita Chabollita, during a toy giveaway Wednesday in Plant City.
Yanelly Sanchez Bautista, 5, gets her face painted by Gabriela Chabolla, also known as clown Payasita Chabollita, during a toy giveaway Wednesday in Plant City. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Chabolla said she was honored to take part in the event.

“We have spent almost two very difficult years and our children deserve more joy than ever,” Chabolla said as she painted hearts on the face of 5-year-old Yanelly Sanchez Bautista. “Today is the time.”

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