The spirit of giving
December 13, 2010 · Print This Article
When they called out his prize number Saturday at the 13th annual Merry Memories toy giveaway in Southeast Austin, making him the winner of a shiny new bicycle, Eric Reyes put his plan into motion.
Wearing a purposeful expression, the lanky 14-year-old stepped up to the front, deliberately surveyed a handful of bikes – he had his pick – and chose the smallest one, quietly telling event volunteers that he wanted to give the bicycle to his curly-haired little brother, 5-year-old Ivan.
That act instantly drew a chorus of “awwws” from some of the adults in the crowd of hundreds outside the Dove Springs Recreation Center.
That had been his plan all along if he were lucky enough to win, said Eric, a freshman at Del Valle High School, who was there with Ivan, his sisters Jennifer and Lizbeth, brother Lizandro and their mother, Mina Zavaleta.
“He’s always wanted a bike,” Eric said of Ivan, who patiently rested his arms on the handlebars while event organizers awarded the rest.
“He has a lot of heart,” said Zavaleta of her eldest son.
Organizers expected to hand out more than 2,000 toys to low-income children in Dove Springs, a far-flung collection of predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods in Southeast Austin where 14 percent of all families lived in poverty, according to figures from the 2000 census.
As musical groups performed, a line of parents and grandparents and children snaked for hundreds of yards outside the recreation center, waiting to file into the festively decorated gymnasium where the toys were given out.
Organizers expected about 3,500 people, said Oné Musel-Gilley, a spokeswoman for the neighborhood’s River City Youth Foundation, the nonprofit group that founded the event.
Merry Memories also matches donors with families for the youth foundation’s Adopt A Family program, which donates items like food, clothing and furniture to about 100 of the most needy families in Dove Springs, particularly those hit by layoffs and other misfortunes.
Mona Gonzalez, the River City Youth Foundation’s executive director, said that she created Merry Memories because she saw a need among low-income families.
“A lot of us have lived this experience, and we understand that Christmas is very special and even one little toy can make a difference,” Gonzalez said.
In its first year, Merry Memories disbursed gifts to about 25 kids. With the help of a small army of volunteers, “there’s no stopping us. This is going to continue to grow,” said Gonzalez, who estimated the value of the toys given away Saturday at $30,000.
Musel-Gilley said that about 200 volunteers begin working six months in advance to put on Merry Memories, which besides the toys and musical groups included sack lunches, art contests, an outdoor playhouse and pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus.
“It’s that one event during the year that brings everybody in Dove Springs together. All the schools, all the churches, all the businesses,” Musel-Gilley said.
Among the volunteers was Roy Narvaez of San Antonio, whose brother Henry, a longtime River City Youth Foundation staffer, died last year. Narvaez said his mother, the late Lydia Zatarain Narvaez, instilled the value of volunteerism in her children.
“Maybe some of these kids will grow up and do exactly what we’re doing. That’s the whole essence of Christmas,” Roy Narvaez said.
Told that Eric Reyes had given his prize to his brother, Gonzalez became emotional. “That’s what we want to instill, a spirit of giving,” she said.