Spread the joy in the toy competition for farming families in Plant City

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PLANT CITY – It was 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 finding Christmas presents for her twins Arlet and Arisbet, 4. So on Wednesday she took them to a Christmas present called Pintando sonrisas 2021 for more than 100 farming families and other people in need.

“I really wanted to give something to my kids,” said Martinez. “To see you so happy is the best gift for a mother like me.”

The four-year-old twins Arisbet (left) and Arlet Martinez are happy about gifts that they will receive on Wednesday at a toy raffle in Plant City organized by the farm workers’ aid group Colectivo Arbol. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

The event took place next to a Plant Cty strawberry field and was organized by Colectivo Arbol, a Tarpon Springs-based nonprofit that helps farm workers in Florida. Two months ago the organization started collecting donations for Legos, puzzles, board games, bicycles, dolls and other toys.

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

“It had a big impact on me this year,” said Jeffers, “I don’t want it to happen to these families again.”

Attending 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 bricks to relieve themselves of the economic hardships of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It helps us a lot because we don’t have that much money now,” said Morales. “Our children need some new presents for Christmas. Why not?”

She smiled widely at the excitement of her girls.

“My best day ever!” called Lupita, holding a doll in her hand.

Related: Tampa Bay farm workers receive coronavirus vaccines

Brillyn Cortes, 10, of Plant City, posed for a portrait with her gifts.

“I love Christmas!” She said.

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

The event featured live music from Tampa-based Mariachi Guadalupe; Face painting by Gabriela Chabolla, also known as the clown Payasita Chabollita; and traditional Christmas cookies.

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

Chabolla said she was honored to attend the event.

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


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