wheels-of-hope-toy-drive_web.jpgSpecial to South Florida Times

MIAMI — In the spirit of the season, underprivileged children in the Little Haiti community and surrounding areas will receive a little holiday delight, courtesy of the efforts of a local Haitian-American professional organization and their supporters, through the “Wheels of Hope Toy Drive.”

“Breakfast with Santa” (BWS), a non-profit association founded in 2007 by Judith Joseph, with the mission of sharing joy and hope during the holidays, will host their 5th Annual Christmas celebration at the J.W. Marriott in Miami on Dec. 18, to benefit 350 children from Edison Park, North Miami and Shadowlawn elementary schools, as well as churches and organizations in the Little Haiti, Overtown and surrounding areas.

Each year, BWS reaches out to agencies that service impoverished youth ages five through 12, especially those of Haitian decent, to provide an opportunity for the children to be transported to the Marriott for a day of fun, music, food and games. Through corporate partnerships such as the Haitian American Chamber of Commerce of Florida, Continucare Medical Center, Walgreens and Citibank, each child who attends receives new toys and a souvenir picture with Santa.

BWS was formed by Joseph, a former longtime employee for Marriott in Palm Beach County, along with other Haitian-American business owners, doctors and lawyers, to bring holiday cheer to local families who may not be able to afford their own celebration. After two successful years, the organization decided to extend their

services to Haiti in 2009 by hosting “Breakfast with Santa in Haiti” to provide food, toys and school supplies for 650 children at the St-Michel Episcopal School in Thomazeau — an effort that came just a month prior to the earthquake that devastated the country on Jan. 12, 2010.

Joseph told The South Florida Times that her organization also is hosting a blitz in Haiti during the first weeks of December to distribute toys to more than 5,000 children in Cap Haitien, Croix des Bouquet, Les Cayes and Jacmel, as well as the Parc de la Canne a Sucre in Port-au-Prince, of which 500 will be given to those with special needs. 

“These events have truly been a blessing to me because we have the opportunity to service not only children in our backyards, but in our homeland as well,” said Joseph. “For some of them, this may be the only present they get, and to a child living in Haiti who has to walk miles to get to school with no shoes on, one bike could be life changing.”

Joseph further stated that in past years, BWS members have personally financed the events.

“We want the children to feel like we are truly doing this from our hearts and yes it can be expensive, but we just can’t stop. In fact, my husband told me that if I write one more check, that we’d be getting divorced,” Joseph said jokingly.

“Our members are so dedicated and are so emotional about this. Every year, I am brought to tears when I see the smile on the children’s faces and with our new partnerships, we will be able to provide even more toys this year and hopefully in the future.”

In support of the cause, City of Miami District 5 Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones joined forces with BWS to bring additional resources in hopes of spreading the holiday cheer a little further through the Haitian community. “My office has an ongoing partnership ­­with the City of  Port-au-Prince, so constantly we working on different projects to assist Haiti,” said Spence-Jones. “This year we decided we would help them by donating bikes and toys to children in Haiti by partnering with Breakfast with Santa. They will be distributing over 5,000 toys to children in Haiti and we will also be working with them on Dec. 18 to distribute toys to children in the local community.”

In an effort to maximize fundraising efforts, Spence-Jones partnered with North Miami Mayor Andre D. Pierre and Miami-Dade District 2 Commissioner Jean Monestime to host a special cocktail reception Nov. 16 at the Little Haiti Cultural Center to kick off the toy drive. Mayor Pierre told The South Florida Times he immediately decided to support the toy drive after Spence-Jones reached out to his wife Bernadette, a teacher and community advocate who hosts annual holiday events to raise funds for North Miami schools, and with whom he shares a passion in helping children in the Haitian community.

“This is an issue that is very near and dear to my heart. I have a large population of constituents in my community who have family members that are still living in Haiti, so partnering with the Commissioner on this event was a no brainer” said Pierre. “This effort brings the missing piece of the puzzle — an opportunity to bring smiles to the children and really help my constituents during the holidays.”

The kick-off event was described by Pierre as a “huge success” and showcased members of the community who were committed to the cause. “My office has been making active phone calls and contacting potential donors who share our interest in helping the less fortunate residents in my community,” he said. “The support has been great. There were people of all shades and backgrounds who came to the event all because they wanted to help. We thank them for realizing that this is a great cause and for showing up to put their money where their mouth is.”

Spence-Jones’ target for the City of Miami is to collect 500 bikes over the next three weeks. “Our goal for the reception was to receive at least 250 bikes. We are happy to say that we received an overwhelming amount of support, especially from Walmart. They have donated $5,000 towards the purchase of bikes,” said Spence-Jones. “We will continue the toy drive through Dec. 18 to collect additional bikes and toys.”

Residents can drop off donations at the Miami Police Department headquarters or any Neighborhood Enhancement Team (NET) office in District 5.

8 a.m.-5 p.m.

Miami Police Department Headquarters
400 NW 2nd Ave. 

Little Haiti NET Office
6301 NE 2nd Ave.

Model City NET Office and Police Substation
1000 NW 62nd Street

Overtown NET Office
1490 NW 3rd Ave.

Wynwood NET Office
1901 NW 24th Ave.

Photo: COURTESY OF City of Miami/ Office of Communications

‘Wheels of Hope Toy Drive’:  At the Nov. 17 reception, Michelle Spence-Jones.