September 21, 2010

Give A Toy, Get A Smile

All of our time is worth the look on the faces of the kids, moms and dads! They were so happy to have these things, and I always say it's from the tourists from the US and Canada that bring everything! I couldn't do it without the tourists help!!!
Nancy Myers, founder of 'Give a Toy, Get a Smile'

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When New York native, Nancy Myers, moved to Cancún, it was with the idea of settling in paradise. She could swop the honking of gridlocked yellow cabs for the call of exotic birds; and the soaring skyscrapers for palm trees. She was a registered nurse, working at the American Smile Clinic, with her husband Andrew. Medical skills travel the world over, so there was no problem getting work in Mexico.

Yet Nancy brought with her more than just her handiness with a swab and gauze. She also had a heart the size of the Hudson River. Her work took her away from the affluent tourist zones, into those villages that are usually only glimpsed from coaches en route to Chichén Itzá. She entered some of the most impoverished homes in Quintana Roo, yet always received a welcome and an offer of refreshments.

She saw the tremendous love in those communities. But she also saw the daily struggle of the parents to put food on the table. Their meagre incomes did not leave much for extras, like the $35 USD worth of school supplies, which every child needs each year. Christmas Day was not the bonanza of toys, which children were used to back in America. In a choice between feeding your child or giving them doll, which parent would take the latter option?

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Nancy and Andrew Myers hooked up with another pair of expat New Yorkers, Joe and Janet Cerutti. This couple had been involved in charitable ventures in the area for years, so brought their expertize to Nancy's idea. Back in New York, there had been a successful initiative, Toys for Tots. People donated the toys and they had been distributed amongst the state's poorer families. That could be done in Mexico. That would be done in Mexico.

In September 2006, Give a Toy, Get a Smile was officially launched, at a press conference, in the Cancún Hotel Zone. Only a couple of journalists attended, but the word was out. Within a month, they had several drop-off points around the town and 155 toys to hand out. Then the campaign snowballed.

A 15 year old boy named Gonzalo, paralyzed with spina bifida, received a wheelchair worth $3500; the top 10 academic achievers, in a local school, each received a wrapped toy to reward them for their hard work; all of the children on the Learning to Live with AIDS program, and those children in the AIDS ward of the General Hospital, all received toys for Christmas. Then they started distributing to the remote villages.



We had a great time. One little boy was standing in front of his open-air shack, playing in the dirt with his brother. You could see his mom resting on a hammock inside the cement building. Andy ran over to him with a racing car track for him and a dump truck for his brother. Do I have to tell you about the smiles??? We had 'em, they had 'em', mom's had 'em, dad's had 'em! EVERYONE was loaded with smiles. It was a very warm feeling!
Nancy Myers, founder of 'Give a Toy, Get a Smile'

By the end of 2006, they knew that they weren't finishing here. Christmas had come and gone full of smiles and warm feelings, but there were still many more children out there.

Not only that, but the start of the school year was coming up. Nancy and Andrew had met an elderly Maya grandmother, with six children, all under 12 years old, in her care. How was she supposed to find the $210 USD to clothe them in school uniforms and ensure that they had all of their books and stationery? 'Give a Toy, Get a Smile' became extended to appeal for backpacks containing school supplies. They were badly needed.

It is now four years later; and the litany of urgent requests met and children helped fills pages of archived news. Yet such work is endless. The appeal for 2010 is just now gearing up for Christmas again. You can read its current status here.

For those planning their vacations in Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos or Tulúm, then Nancy is asking that you pack an extra toy in your suitcase. There are locations, like the Hard Rock Cafe, to drop them off in the center of each of these places. For more information about how you can help, please visit the Give a Toy, Get a Smile site. And gracias. :D

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