A little boy in New Jersey with a big heart is doing his part to make sure children in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico receive some holiday cheer.
Jayden Perez, 8, has collected more than 1,000 toys in the last two weeks for kids in Puerto Rico. His mother, Ana Rosado, told HuffPost it was the third-grader who came up with the idea to ask people in his community to donate toys for children on the island affected by Hurricane Maria.
“It happened right after Thanksgiving when he came to me and he was concerned that it’s Christmas and they’re not going to have toys,” Rosado told HuffPost on Tuesday. “It started out with him telling me he wanted to donate his toys to the children in Puerto Rico.”
Rosado explained to Jayden, who has Puerto Rican roots on both sides of his family, that he didn’t have enough toys for all the children on the island. In response, the boy came up with the idea of asking the coaches and parents involved in his football team to also donate toys.
In an effort to get even more people in their community involved, Rosado posted a video of Jayden on Facebook in late November.
“Kids lost a lot of their toys, and now they don’t have any,” Jayden tells the camera, holding a cardboard sign asking viewers to make a child happy by donating a toy. “So can you donate one toy, from the bottom of my heart and the bottom of your heart?”
The family held a toy drive at their home in Woodland Park, New Jersey, on Dec. 3, and the response was immense after their video went viral. In the following weeks, Rosado has posted photos and video to Facebook of people who’ve continued to visit their home to drop off donations after seeing Jayden’s video.
“I just thought it was going to be something small, we’d collect maybe 50 to 100 toys [but] no, my god, this has gone beyond,” Rosado said.
The family has also raised more than $6,000 through a GoFundMe page from people who couldn’t make it to their home. The money collected via the platform will be used to buy even more toys for kids in Puerto Rico.
Rosado says Univision, ABC News and other outlets have already spoken to Jayden about the toy drive. And the media coverage has only prompted more people to donate, including the NBA, which delivered more than 20 boxes filled with toys and merchandise to the family’s home.
The family originally planned to give the collected toys to family friends who were going to travel to Puerto Rico. But after the toy drive surpassed their expectations, Rosado decided they would deliver the toys in person.
The family will spend four days on the island starting on Jan. 4, driving on their own to different areas that were most impacted by the hurricane. They planned the trip to coincide with the Three Kings’ Day, a highly-celebrated holiday on the island during which kids traditionally receive gifts.
“I think it’s a great experience for Jayden to see what these kids have gone through and the smile that he’s going to bring to them when he gives them the toys,” Rosado said.