Annual Christmas tradition celebrates 30 years of making children smile by spreading holiday cheer

HOUSTON – An annual Christmas tradition celebrates thirty years of making children smile by spreading holiday cheer.

Juguetes Para El Barrio, which translates to toys for the neighborhood, is organized by the Latin Fantasy Lowrider Car Club.  Each Christmas, the group collects toys and treats for area children, distributing them Christmas day, riding low as they cruise the community.

“It started thirty years ago as an idea going out in the neighborhoods and passing out toys,” said Sotero Villarreal Sr. who co-founded Juguetes Para El Barrio in 1991.

“We used our truck and loaded it up. Back then, it was one truck then it became more and more, and more and now we end up using a big box truck to pass out goodie bags and toys,” Villarreal said.

Members of the Latin Fantasy Lowrider Car Club gathered Friday to put the finishing touches on preparations, including filling some 4,000 treat bags and organizing toys for Christmas morning.

“Makes us happy, you know, when we see the kids,” said Frank Hernandez, who joined the car club 12 years ago and has volunteered for the toy cruise every year.

”There’s a lot of children out there that, you know? Hopefully, they see us what we’re doing and as they get older they do the same thing, too, to help out,” Hernandez said.

That’s the goal of the event, which requires a lot of work to get off the ground. The Latin Fantasy Lowrider Car Club raises money year-round to support the toy cruise. The organization also accepts donations, which hasn’t been easy during the pandemic, requiring members to come out of pocket at times.

While that may seem daunting, Villarreal said it’s his mission. It’s also a family affair.

“It’s a family thing, we turned it into a tradition for us, as far as my boys were little,” he said.

Nick, 31, is the youngest son. He’s only known Christmas to be a cruise, riding low, hitting switches. 

“There are kids who don’t have a Christmas. Their parents do work but they can’t afford to have,” he said.

So, the club rides on, dancin’ in the streets on Christmas, with a goal of leaving children with a smile.

More information on The Latin Fantasy Lowrider Car Club can be found on its Facebook page.

About the Author:

Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. NOLA born and bred, though #HoustonStrong, with stops in Minnesota, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in along the way.