Toys for Cookies
We all have been told to be generous and not expect anything in return, but who can resist some delicious cookies? 'Toys for Cookies' is an initiative started by two Colombians in West Lafayette to collect toys for kids during the Christmas season.
Kids enjoyed music, food, gifts, and a visit from Santa Claus at the LCWE Christmas party.
"It started as a family tradition back home. Every Christmas, my mother wanted to help those in need, spending time with the elderly, cooking for children, and giving gifts," says Lina Lopez, who created the program in 2012 with her husband Rodrigo Mesa. After years of making donations for Christmas, Lina and Rodrigo decided to invite their friends to join their tradition and make a greater impact. "In exchange for their generosity, and as a symbolic gesture of appreciation, I invited them to our home for cookies," explains Lina. The following year, they made it an annual event and collected 25 toys. All gifts were donated to churches and non-profit organizations in the area.
After graduating from Purdue and moving out of the city in 2014, Lina and Rodrigo handed the program over to Clara Vasquez and Carolina Vivas, two Colombian friends who moved to Lafayette to pursue their graduate studies. The two were looking for a way to give back to the community and they felt this was the perfect way to do it. "Helping others is really easy and we do it with love. Besides the satisfaction of knowing we are doing good, we expect nothing in return," explains Clara. "If we were in Colombia we would probably be doing the same thing, but its name would be 'Toys for Empanadas'!" adds Carolina laughing.
In 2015, Clara and Carolina collected eighty new and used toys that ended up in the hands of beneficiaries of the Multicultural Efforts to end Sexual Assault (MESA) program, which is committed to preventing sexual violence in Indiana. Clara and Carolina kicked off the initiative. "Last year, it was just the two of us. We paid for the ingredients, baked the cookies, and called all of our friends and acquaintances to spread the message by word of mouth," explains Carolina.
This year, 'Toys for Cookies' evolved to a new stage when Clara and Carolina invited the Colombian Student Association at Purdue (CSAP) and the Latino Cultural Center (LCC) to join the program. They funded the initiative, assisted with logistics, and helped spread the word. The gifts were collected in three different locations in Greater Lafayette and delivered at The Latino Center for Wellness and Education (LCWE) Christmas Party, an event that has been hosted for more than twenty years. "The party is a way for kids to have the opportunity to enjoy a night with Santa, gifts, and food. Also, a way to enjoy a night out of the house and meet others in the community to create a sense of unity," says Jaqueline Albarenga-Flores, program director at the LCC and volunteer at the LCWE who participated in the planning of the event.
One of the lessons Carolina and Clara have learned with 'Toys for Cookies' is that people want to collaborate, but they are too busy to buy a gift, especially during final exams. "I have bought gifts for students who preferred to give me the money instead," Carolina says. Next year, they plan to implement some strategies to help benefactors avoid the hassle of going to the store, like receiving the gifts at a specific address, accepting money transfers, and buying the gifts themselves. "We expect to continue to grow a community around 'Toys for Cookies', with more people involved and build a culture around giving that becomes stronger every year," concludes Clara.
Rodrigo Mesa and Lina Lopez created the Toys for Cookies program in 2012.
Gifts collected by ‘Toys for Cookies’ and LCWE were enough for all the kids
Carolina Vivas, Jaqueline Albarenga-Flores, and Clara Vasquez planned together the delivery of the toys