"Life's a Beach" readers already know that Christmas Dream Playa has done a wonderful job over the past few years raising awareness about disabled and disadvantaged children in this region with their annual toy drives and "Letters to Santa" campaigns. Via word of mouth, blogs and the local travel forums and more recently harnessing the power of social media, the organizers and supporters of Christmas Dreams have managed to provide gifts for thousands of children who might otherwise go without during the holidays. But this is just one segment of the community that Christmas Dreams supports. Funds that are donated to Christmas Dreams, not specifically designated to sponsor a particular child, go into a general charitable fund and used to purchase dispensas and warm blankets for the elderly. A dispensa is a box of non-perishable food items that will help to support a household and includes essential items such as dried beans, rice, cooking oil and sugar. For the past two years, organizer Gayle Collins has been able to negotiate a great discount from the manager at AKI Supermercado who made sure all 200 boxes were on pallets and ready for us to pick up.

This year, for the first time, Christmas Dreams was able to coordinate with DIF Solidaridad. DIF Director Yara and her staff helped us to identify elders in need who were not already receiving outside support and on January 3rd nearly 200 seniors in Puerto Aventuras pueblo received a much needed care package of food, clothes and a warm blanket to start off their new year. We also brought and served Rosca de Reyes to all of the seniors and their family members who came along to assist them.

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad

This is actually my favorite part of the Christmas Dreams campaign as we get to see two, three and sometimes four generations of residents...grandparents and parents, grandchildren and great-grandchildren... all together looking forward to a bit of help and holiday cheer. One by one, names were read off the list and the elders would come forward, some in wheelchairs, other supported by a son or daughter, some on their own. Once the gifts to registered elders were given out, the staff from DIF went about the process of organizing the many seniors who had shown up who were not already registered in the system. They took names and addresses, checked identification for those that had it and made sure that no one went home empty handed. There were also people who had come to report that a neighbor or family member was unable to attend the event either due to extreme age, lack of mobility or illness. Again, a list was made with names and addresses and a promise given that these residents would somehow receive the assistance their dispensa and blanket. In the end, there were almost 25 individuals unaccounted for or unable to come in person to receive their gifts.

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Life's a Beach Playa del Carmen Blog - Christmas Dreams and DIF helping the elderly of Solidaridad 

Yesterday morning, Russell Granger (The Amigos Network) and I were asked to accompany staff from DIF Playa del Carmen, DIF Puerto Aventuras and a Municipal Diputado representing PA and deliver the remaining care packages to the 25 very elderly and infirm shut-ins who had not received them. We met at the new DIF office in the PA pueblo, loaded a DIF truck with dispensas, blanket and clothes in a variety of sizes and headed out with a local guide in hopes of finding everyone. Armed with our list and a map with all of the addresses carefully marked, we wound our way through the pueblo and the newer Porto Maya developments, knocking on doors, talking to neighbors, trying to track down the elders on the list.

Playa del Carmen Blog - DIF and Christmas Dreams helping the elderly in Solidaridad 

Playa del Carmen Blog - DIF and Christmas Dreams helping the elderly in Solidaridad

Playa del Carmen Blog - DIF and Christmas Dreams helping the elderly in Solidaridad

Playa del Carmen Blog - DIF and Christmas Dreams helping the elderly in Solidaridad

Playa del Carmen Blog - DIF and Christmas Dreams helping the elderly in Solidaridad

Playa del Carmen Blog - DIF and Christmas Dreams helping the elderly in Solidaridad

At many locations, there was no answer and no way to determine whether the elder was in the home. We were left to our own imaginations wondering if they were home alone and unable to reach the door. Did we have the correct location? Had they moved? Were they ill and removed from the home...or worse? It was painful to see how easy it would be for at-risk seniors to fall through the cracks and out of the system set up to support them. All along the way, Maricarmen and Luis Miguel from DIF were careful to explain who Russell and I were and where the dispensas had come from. They explained that the photos taken would be shown to the kind people who donated funds to Christmas Dreams to find additional supporters so that even more assistance could come in the future.They also inquired about who was the caregiver in the home, if any, whether the seniors were enrolled in seguro popular and in some cases made the determination that the household would be set up for a monthly dispensa alotment through DIF.

It was heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once but we came away feeling really good about the work being done. The interest and cooperation we have received from DIF throughout this holiday giving season has us really excited about working together on future projects in different segments of the community. There is a lot of need. So much, that it can be completely overwhelming when you think about trying to tackle all the issues. It's going to be essential that locally based charitable organizations like Christmas Dreams, Fundacion TAO, The Amigos Network, the Rotary Clubs of Solidaridad and even our own initiative, Kicks 4 Kids coordinate their efforts with DIF to make sure that their support is reaching those most in need and making a significant impact in the community. We are far stronger and more affective working together than we are going off on our own.

For everyone who has contributed to Christmas Dreams this year and in years past, Thank you. I hope that you can see how much your contributions mean to the less fortunate members of the Playa community. Those of us who have chosen to call the Riviera Maya "home", whether it be to retire comfortably or to make a living and raise a family, have a certain responsibility to help those in our community who are no longer able to help themselves. The disabled, the elderly and the infirm need our support and locally based private aid that comes from Christmas Dreams and similar charitable groups is essential to their health and well-being. Whether you donate your time or your money, your contribution WILL make a difference.

  

Michele Kinnon
Michele Kinnon
and her husband Rob are the owners of BuyPlaya Real Estate Advisors, Akumal Real Estate and FurnitureMEX, both based in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Michele is a member of Rotary Club of Playa del Carmen Seaside, the organizer of Kick 4 Kids and participated on the founding committee for Taste of Playa, the Riviera Maya's largest and longest running culinary festival. She also supports numerous local non-profit organizations, blogs, writes local interest articles and administrates the Riviera Maya Events Calendar. Michele and Rob have lived in Playa del Carmen with their two children since 2004. Follow her updates on Google+.