Santa, brought to Harbor-UCLA hospital by Cheer for Children, provides holiday cheer and presents for a little girl. Photo by Mark McDermott
Merika Tu’ua’s children will wake up on Christmas morning to a tree surrounded by presents. They will open the festive packages and revel in their holiday haul. Because of Tu’ua and her family, another family in the South Bay will be doing the same thing.
For the past three years, the Tu’ua family has participated in the local, grassroots organization Cheer for Children. Since its founding in 1985, Cheer for Children has brought joy to thousands of local families by collecting everything from school supplies and gift cards, to toys and toiletries, and distributing them to families in need all over the community.
“The first time we got involved was because we had an early Christmas and my daughter got two of the same toy, a really nice Barbie car,” said Tu’ua. “At first I didn’t think about it, I thought, ‘Oh, she’ll have two of the same Christmas toy,’ but then I remembered the program.”
She sat her daughter down and asked her if she would be okay giving her toy to a kid who doesn’t get to have a happy Christmas.
“I didn’t think she’d get it, but she did, and gave away her toy. She was really excited, so now we do it every year,” Tu’ua said. Now, as part of the program, the Tu’ua family gets matched up with a confidential family and gives them age-specific toys every year.
Cheer for Children founder Pam Edwards was inspired to start the program because of her mother. Edwards was sickly with lupus as a child and into adulthood. When Edwards was in the hospital, her mother put on parties for the entire children’s ward. The disease finally claimed her life after a long, valiant battle.
“As an adult she was unable to have children of her own, so her life was devoted to helping children,” said Donna Dawick, one of the three women who picked up the torch after Edward’s death. Dawick, Kathryn Harrison, and Denise Shiroma together do the work Edwards did herself. The organization operates out of Dawick’s living room and has no administrative costs.
“There are so many people out there to help,” Dawick said. “The stories just break your heart… The mothers have cancer, the kids are sick, they just can’t find a job. They could be your next door neighbor. A lot of our families are in that Catch 22; they just can’t afford the extra things. People think they can live on welfare – well, they should try it themselves. It’s not that much money.”
Between the families and parties, Dawick said, they help over 1,000 children annually, and that number grows every year. “I think people have continued to support us because we’re grassroots. We’re all volunteers, nobody gets paid. They know where their money is going.”
Cheer for children
This season’s toy wrapping party is Thursday, December 13 from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Center for Spiritual Living, 907 Knob Hill, Redondo Beach. Volunteers are asked to bring wrapping paper, tape and scissors, if possible.
Edward’s mother’s tradition of bringing cheer to hospital-bound children continues this year at the Harbor UCLA Medical Center on Saturday, December 15.
“When you see your own Christmas tree covered in toys and see that these kids want a pair of socks or a Lego truck, it doesn’t take much to be involved,” said Tu’ua. “They don’t ask for much.”
Donation boxes are located at the local Redondo Beach fire stations, the Redondo Beach library and other businesses throughout the community. To get involved visit cheerforchildren.net or call (310) 540-2494. B