Formerly homeless community advocate, and founder/director of homeless advocacy and support organization We Are Not Invisible, Desiree Martinez, is asking for the community’s help to provide toys to homeless children who are often overlooked during the holiday toy drives. The toy drive will continue through Thursday, December 20 and toys will given out in an outreach on Saturday, December 22.
SEE MORE INFO HERE about the drive and how to get involved.
We Are Not Invisible is the organization with which I have volunteered for several years. It’s different from other organizations, because she serves through relationship WITH the street family, constantly giving them a voice and responding out of understanding.
WANI has launched their annual Toys and Joy for Girls and Boys drive to take toys to homeless children along Motel Drive. Martinez stated that these children often are not included in other toys drives because of their parents inability to participate in the programs.
“During our other outreach efforts, I’d see the amount of children living in motels and in the streets, and I was shocked to find out that they were not receiving gifts for the holidays, “says Martinez. “This is who I thought would receive the gifts that I donated to organizations that held toy drives. I called around to many churches and organizations and asked if any go out into the community to deliver gifts. I found out that they were more than happy to add the children to the list to receive a gift but they did not deliver gifts. I knew myself that these families were homeless and living in motels. They did not have transportation to go to churches or other toy outreach locations and definitely did not have enough bus money to go to and from any toy donations spots.”
Martinez says that she also noticed that the toy drives exclude children of certain ages. She noted that the cut off age is 14, leaving out those who 15-17.
These observations inspired the Toys and Joys For Girls and Boys toy drive and outreach.
“I was really shocked about this, but instead of being sad, I decided that, instead of donating the gifts elsewhere, I could go deliver them myself. So, I called a couple of friends with friends and set up a day to drive from motel to motel and deliver Christmas gifts to all the children and teens. I had a ‘Santa’ volunteer (kids love Santa) and I had a couple of local motorcycle clubs volunteer to ride their bikes along with us (kids love motorcycles). So, with Santa, motorcycles, and gifts, the kids had a very happy, blessed day to remember.
“We also had some of the community reach out and join us in our holiday toy caravan to deliver food and clothing. This is what community holiday spirit is about to me. It was a beautiful sight to see the amount of people from many different areas of Fresno come together for our forgotten community.”
Since then, Martinez has continue to spearhead the effort, connecting with families they connect with throughout the year.
Doing the toy drives hasn’t been easy.
“Last year, when I went to pick up the toys from the toy drive pick up locations, we had empty boxes. I was in shock and just cried. I had no idea what to do or say so I went online to cancel the hand out. Many people came together at once. I was, once again, in shock. I couldn’t believe it. I was on an emotional rollercoaster and happy to see what the community came together to do. We definitely had enough toys that, in addition to the children on our list, we were able to find a complex dedicated to previously homeless families waiting for their own permanent home and bless them as well. Even though everything worked out at the last second, it was a very very emotional ride. This year, I am reaching out out further online than I had last year.”
Martinez started a Go Fund Me to make it easier for people to donate and to help raise more support for the toy drive (go here to donate). Online donations can also be given through PayPal here. There are also drop off locations at MB Clothing and Apparel, 857 East Shields Avenue, Palo Alto Palace, 5430 West Palo Alto, and Fresno Ohana Pantry, 1560 Fulton Street.
Martinez encourages donors to donate to the age groups often overlooked: children up to three and teenagers. “When people donate, it’s usually for children ages four through twelve.” The organization provided a list of suggested gifts, such as movie gift cards and perfume or books for toddlers on their website, wanif.org.
Martinez says that she is asked why they include the older teens. “I say ‘why not?’ These teens are homeless. Also, they have a huge responsibility on them. They help cook, clean, and raise their siblings, too. They deserve to be appreciated in every way. They are also our future.”
We Are Not Invisible also welcomes volunteers to help with wrapping and giving out the presents. More information is on their website.