Rep. Jose Felix Diaz (and family) become Santa’s Helpers for needy Miami-Dade kids
by Phil Ammann on December 23, 2013 in the Saint Peters Blog
Miami-Dade County may have a reputation for beautiful beaches and lavish lifestyles, but it is also one of the Florida counties with the highest number of families living below the federal poverty line.
Eleven years ago, a group of friends and families — including State Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and his two sisters, Angie and Karina – decided to help struggling parents and kids during the holiday season.
They started a program now known as Santa’s Helpers Miami.
Nearly 100 volunteers came together Sunday to help fulfill holiday wishes for over 25 disadvantaged South Florida families, including almost 60 children. Most of the students participating are from Ruben Dario Park, part of Diaz’ House District 116.
Santa’s Helpers give each family almost $200 in grocery gift certificates; each child gets at least one pair of shoes, an outfit, pair of pajamas, and three toys. They also encourage students from nearby Palm Springs North Elementary to come sing carols with the other children at Ruben Dario Park.
Angie Diaz-Medina, is in charge of community health initiatives at Baptist Health Systems. She alone collects thousands of dollars every year for the program.
Diaz-Medina, who holds a master’s degree in business administration from Florida International University, raises an estimated $20,000 per year.
“When you are struggling to buy groceries and pay the rent, it is tough to get your children everything that they want for Christmas, that is where we step in,” said Diaz-Medina. “At Santa’s Helpers we get kids the toys that they actually want; something which would not have been possible was it not but for these generous volunteers.”
Many of the children’s stories are truly heartbreaking.
One family never had a Christmas tree, so Patty Ordiz, an accountant and friend of the Diaz family, surprised them with bags of toys, a new tree and ornaments.
Another family, whose kids had been sleeping on mattresses on the floor for the past few years, asked for beds for the children. Miguel Boscan and Greg Acevedo spent their weekend building two new bed frames.
Several of the children aided by Santa’s Helpers are autistic, and one is losing sight from cancer. A nine-year-old girl helps her mom, who suffered a debilitating stroke several years ago, to cope with the death of her father.
“It is so rewarding to help those that can’t help themselves,” said Karina Diaz.
Adela Hernandez, one of the first Santa’s Helpers, collects money from her own family members every Thanksgiving; she then adopts a household for the event.
This year, for a family that asked for a TV, Hernandez took the lead by purchasing a flat-screen, LCD television for the family to enjoy in the New Year.
“These amazing volunteers give and give because they care – they understand and believe in the true meaning behind Christmas,” Rep. Diaz said.
Diaz – dressed as Santa — was there to pose for pictures with children and ask what they want for Christmas.
“In previous years, some of the kids have asked Santa for jobs for their parents,” Diaz added, “and that puts it all into perspective for me; how could we not help these kid?”
For the first time, Santa’s Helpers is collaborating with a new charity, La Fofi’s Rainbow Foundation, which is dedicated to the memory of a 2-year-old member of a Santa’s Helpers family who died August 25.
In honor of La Fofi (Verónica Isabel Guerra), each child received a box full of Hershey’s Hugs and Kisses.
Angeles Diaz, matriarch of the Diaz family, is a kindergarten teacher at a Miami-Dade public school, which gives Santa’s Helper applications to some of her neediest families.
“These are real people, with real problems,” she said. “They come to Santa’s Helpers because they want their kids to have a normal Christmas.”