Christmas morning was both merry and bright for thousands of Immokalee children thanks to a little holiday spirit that began spreading back in October.
That’s when the elves behind Guadalupe Center’s annual Holiday Gift Shop began soliciting donations of new toys, games, clothing, stuffed animals, bicycles and other age-appropriate gifts for children. Almost like Christmas magic, gifts started flowing into a staging area at Guadalupe Center, piling high before a sleigh full of volunteers began sorting and arranging gifts by age and gender.
By mid-December, Guadalupe Center’s Performing Arts Hall had transformed into winter wonderland. The beautifully decorated Holiday Gift Shop opened its doors for five days to parents of children in the After-school Tutoring Program. Parents perused rows of gifts neatly arranged by age and gender to pick out the perfect presents for their sons and daughters. Employees from Publix, Oracle, Wells Fargo, Guadalupe Center and the Collier County Sheriff’s Office joined volunteers from area businesses, residential communities and civic groups to wrap presents in colorful, kid-friendly wrapping paper sure to put a smile on their faces come Christmas morning.
Those who have witnessed the program, which has operated for more than 20 years, have said Santa’s Workshop has nothing on Guadalupe Center’s Holiday Gift Shop!
The Holiday Gift Shop wasn’t born out of a desire to provide more gifts to children. Rather, it was to make sure no child went without one on Christmas Day. In Immokalee, the poverty rate is 43.4%, and many families struggle with day-to-day living expenses like housing, food, utilities and transportation. Money for Christmas gifts simply isn’t in the family budget.
Guadalupe Center selects families for the Holiday Gift Shop based on financial need, but the 927 children who received a gift through the annual program were not the only ones assisted in 2019. Guadalupe Center’s generous partners again stepped forward to help.
For more than a decade, Waterside Shops has provided a spectacular Christmas party for more than 150 second-graders in the After-school Tutoring Program. The party includes appearances by Santa and Mrs. Claus, elves, face painting, crafts and lunch. Tenants at Waterside Shops donated items so that each child can select a gift, and remaining items are brought to Immokalee to stock the Holiday Gift Shop.
The list of generous donors and community partners continues to grow each year. Since 2016, families from the Community School of Naples have adopted families in the Early Childhood Education Program, providing gifts and clothing for nearly 300 children. Community School students even accompany Santa Claus for the gift delivery.
The Latin American Motorcycle Association’s Holiday Toy Run, Miromar Outlets, PetSmart and a long list of additional businesses all contribute to this magical month of giving. Individuals also ask if they can help local families in need, and plenty of Immokalee residents still haven’t recovered from the impacts of Hurricane Irma, so they’ve quietly donated everything from food, clothing, household items, gifts and even holiday decorations.
Thanks to our community partners, we distributed holiday gifts to 1,993 children in 2019.
Each year, it is truly astounding to watch our community spring into action to help the children and families of this community. That indeed is the spirit of Christmas.