By Ray Huard
Second-grader Chelsea De Los Santos won’t get a birthday party this year when she turns 8.
She won’t get any presents either.
“For my birthday, instead of getting gifts for myself, I’m going to donate toys to the sick children at Rady Children’s Hospital,” Chelsea explained, reciting a talk she gave to her schoolmates at Vista Academy of Visual & Performing Arts (VAPA) in the Vista Unified School District.
So far, Chelsea has collected more than 100 toys, everything from dolls to coloring books, said her mom, Cristina De Los Santos. “My living room and dining room are full,” De Los Santos said.
Chelsea’s not finished.
“I want to collect more toys,” she said, standing outside her classroom.
Her mom said that Chelsea would like to collect enough toys so that every child in the hospital will get one.
Chelsea’s adding her own contribution, using part of her $5 weekly allowance to buy coloring books and board games to include in the toy drive
She came up with the idea of a toy drive on her own one night in January, when she and her mother started talking about what Chelsea might want for her birthday, April 20.
“Every year, we have a party for her, usually two parties, one for friends and one for relatives,” De Los Santos said.
This year, Chelsea had other ideas. “I’ve already had lots of birthday parties,” Chelsea said. “I already have lots of toys.”
When Chelsea said that she wanted to collect toys for children in a hospital, “It just caught me by surprise,” her mom said.
To be sure, De Los Santos said that she asked Chelsea over several days in January if Chelsea really wanted to give up her party and gifts.
“She was very, very insistent,” De Los Santos said.
Soon after Chelsea announced her plans and started collecting toys, her teacher, Denise Shaver, gave the class a writing assignment asking students, “If you could do anything to make a difference in the community, what would you do?”
Chelsea wrote about collecting toys for sick children, and the essay prompted De Los Santos to think about expanding Chelsea’s toy drive.
“I thought, maybe I should email Mrs. Shaver, that we’re already doing this, asking if she wanted to get the class involved,” De Los Santos said. Shaver loved the idea.
Chelsea De Los Santos, her mother Cristina, and Vista Academy 2nd grade teacher Mrs. Denise Shaver with a few of the toys collected for Chelsea's project.
VAPA is an International Baccalaureate School, part of a program that encourages children to think globally and get involved in their community.
“International Baccalaureate is all about students taking action,” Shaver said, and Chelsea was sure doing that.
Not only did Shaver’s class take up Chelsea’s toy drive, but it went school-wide, with Chelsea taking one day to make presentations to other classrooms with a simple plea – “Please help me bring happiness, hope and share a smile to the sick children at Rady Children’s Hospital.”
“She did it all herself, I’m so proud of her,” Shaver said, adding, “Chelsea’s a wonderful student. She’s one of the top students.”
Hospital Media Relations Officer Carlos Delgado said others interested in forming a toy drive like Chelsea’s or donating to the hospital can contact Rady’s Children Foundation at 858-966-4015.
Chelsea said there really wasn’t anything in particular that prompted her decision to give up her party and presents.
Smiling shyly, Chelsea said, “I don’t know how I thought of it,” although her family has a history of helping others.
When Chelsea’s 26-year-old sister, Sarah, was Chelsea’s age, the family would hand out boxes of food in their native Philippines, De Los Santos said.
Giving to others is an important value in their family. “It’s better to give than to receive,” De Los Santos said. “It opens your heart to everyone.”
In addition to the toy drive, Chelsea sold 425 boxes of cookies as a Brownie in Vista Girl Scout Troop 1925. She’s also a member of Vista Voices choir, the Music Conservatory at VAPA, and performed in two musicals through the school’s Drama Conservatory.
Chelsea’s not sure why people are impressed by her toy drive. “Really, anyone can do it, any kid,” Chelsea said.