For kids in Honduras, a toy drive fit for kings

By Jennifer Brookland

December 24, 2013

Thanks to young volunteers and one of the biggest private companies in Honduras, kids in poor communities will have new and used toys this Christmas.

Throughout Latin America, Dia de los Reyes celebrates the three kings or magi who traveled by horse, camel and elephant to bring gifts to baby Jesus.

In Honduras, Lady Lee Corporation, the largest mall operator, is wrapping up a toy drive that will send gifts to at-risk youth in poor communities around the country to celebrate their January 6 arrival, and the Christmastime holiday that grew from it.

The gift-giving is not entirely symbolic: A joint initiative with Creative Associates International’s Alianza Jovenes Honduras-USAID program, the campaign will send toys to outreach centers that provide youth in violent communities with a safe space to gather, receive training in marketable skills, access academic tutoring and volunteer.

These centers, sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development, have already benefitted 17,000 young Hondurans in 40 locations. There are 115 of them in Central America.

The “Ayúdanos a Regalar Sonrisas” (Help us Give Smiles) campaign also aims to foster a sense of volunteerism and generosity among young Hondurans.

“Now that Christmas is coming and you will receive new toys, it is time that children who no longer need or use their items can use them for the good of others,” says Salvador Stadthagen, who directs Alianza Joven Honduras-USAID.

Throughout December, families deposited gifts into eight-foot decorated boxes wrapped as presents while watching performances by break-dance clubs—organized around Tegucigalpa to engage young people in something fun, and off the streets.

Dozens of volunteers from the Youth Against Violence movement got involved, too—manning the collection booths and promoting the campaign in Lady Lee’s malls.

The movement, which sprung from an earlier Creative program focused on addressing violence in Guatemala, is now active in all seven Central American countries and works locally, nationally and regionally on crime prevention.

Violent crime in Honduras has been steadily rising for more than a decade but in recent years has reached appalling levels, with homicides averaging 20 a day.

Lady Lee Corporation began in the 1970s as a small women’s clothing store in San Pedro Sula, and grew into a multi-division company that owns the international franchises for Wendy’s and Applebee’s, a home appliance chain and upscale shopping centers in major cities.

Alianza JovenHonduras, a 2-year-old initiative that addresses violence through Outreach Centers and partnerships with the Government and the private sector, launched a major initiative to reach out to companies like Lady Lee in August in collaboration with US Ambassador Lisa Kubiske and USAID mission director James Watson.

The initiative began with four “Corporate Social Responsibility and the Prevention of Violence” events, where the Ambassador or mission director presented to the Chambers of Commerce and Industries of San Pedro Sula, Tegucigalpa, Choloma, and La Ceiba.

The outreach succeeded in showing private companies how they can make a difference for youth in Honduras—their customers, family members and future workers.

Lady Lee donated libraries to six youth outreach centers in October, and sends volunteers to interact with children who use the centers for mentoring, productive after-school activities and a safe space.

The toy drive is a seasonal addition to a collaboration that benefits the company, and the community. Lady Lee matched every used toy donation with a brand new item, and offered discounts to people buying toys for donation.

“From this, alliances like the one with Lady Lee have sprung up,” says Stadthagen “We are following up on other partnerships.”

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