As the president and founder of the Montebello Youth Leadership Club (MYLC), Oliver Jimenez has been leading the Christmas Toy drive in Montebello for the past 10 years. In partnership with Montebello’s YMCA, the organization has distributed 10,000 toys every year to kids and families in need. In addition to toys, food baskets are also distributed.
For the last two years, due to logistics, the event has occurred a few days before Christmas Eve instead of every 24th of December. The event originally took place at Quiet Cannon, a banquet hall in Montebello, but since the pandemic it has moved to Montebello City Hall.
The toy drive is done through a car drive-thru operation following strict guidelines for everyone’s health and safety. Registrations to this event are only done through local schools and churches. Registrations are currently closed.
MYLC was established on July 25, 2013. Jimene’s brother Christopher had an idea and vision for the organization. Christopher Jimenez was a former President of Montebello High School, and so was Jimenez.
Soon enough, with the help of 11 friends, they formed the first cabinet that established the club’s constitution and name. MYLC, is a youth organization created to inspire the youth to give back to the community by making them better leaders.
Through the implementation of the hand-on-hand process, they also raise awareness about the real situations in their community.
“Members of the club are able to enhance their leadership skills and grow as individuals,” Jimenez said.
By participating in community service, attending public forums, conducting political campaigns, and meeting with elected officials, MYLC focuses on issues concerning their community and youth.
Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
OLIVER JIMENEZ, 30, MONTEBELLO, POLITICAL CONSULTANT, HE/HIM, LATINO
WHEN DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THE ORGANIZATION? WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE CAUSE?
When we founded this organization, the mission was to give back to the community, but I think the original concept was to really empower the younger generation. To prepare them to be the leaders of tomorrow, or in other words, the future leaders. Our slogan is new generational leadership. And something throughout these 10 years since the organization was founded and something we talk about is the importance of letting them know that leadership doesn’t consist of just government appalled. They can be in business, they can be journalists, and they can even be in a sport as well. So, I think that in the long run that became the ultimate goal and mission, which is to empower the new generation with the proper tools and proper resources and we’ve been doing this since 2013.
HOW HAS YOUR VOLUNTEERING EXPERIENCE BEEN THROUGHOUT THE LAST 10 YEARS WITH THE ORGANIZATION?
I think it’s not like anything else because volunteer work gives you a unique perspective in having direct contact with the people you’re trying to help. I think for me the biggest reward of being a volunteer is that you get to see the faces and hear the stories of the people you’re helping. They are no longer just numbers or graphs on a sheet of paper, but people with names and real-life stories. I think for me that’s the most important takeaway about volunteer work because volunteer work is the most important work that it’s out there. As a volunteer, you’re really making an impact on people’s lives, whether it’s giving out food, whether it’s just giving out toys, or just listening to people. I always thought that volunteer work was very important and to me, that’s always been my personal experience. I just love to do it because it does make me have a connection with the individual.
WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PART OF PUTTING THE TOY DRIVE TOGETHER DURING THE PANDEMIC?
The hardest part was trying to figure out if we were going to have the event when the pandemic started. It was something that was discussed a lot, but ultimately we understood that regardless of the pandemic, we need it to go forward with this toy drive, more than ever. We knew the importance of the holiday. We knew the importance of Christmas and what it means to our families and especially the kids. Some kids wait all year round to receive this one toy. We strategized so much on how we would move forward with the event at the peak of the pandemic and there were alot of uncertainties. One of our main concerns was getting people to volunteer and hand out toys to complete strangers; in the end we’ve managed to accomplish that. We did the toy drive-through a drive-thru operation. So, a lot of the toys were distributed through the drive-thru. The cars would approach and they would open their trunks and we would place the toys. During the pandemic a lot of our resources consisted of food banks within the region along with the toys that we were able to give out. Even last year on our last event we gave out food and toys.
HOW DOES IT FEEL LIKE TO BE ABLE TO GIVE BACK TO THE LATINO COMMUNITY?
It’s empowering. Like I said before, it’s the stories and the experiences we get. There’s this famous quote that I’ve heard somewhere and I tell people, “You never know who’s watching your journey and who’s being inspired by it.” And I do this work thinking, “You know what, there’s another Latino or a group of Latinos watching what I’m doing” and hopefully that inspires them to stand up and give back. I think it’s very empowering and rewarding to help your community, especially here in the city of Montebello. I can attest that the majority of the people that we help are Latinos. You can tell when they see another Latino helping they do get this sense of pride that someone else stood up to the plate. So, hopefully it encourages people or another group of Latinos to say “if he can do it, I can do it too.”
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL SOMEONE WHO IS THINKING ABOUT VOLUNTEERING NEXT YEAR OR ANY FUTURE EVENTS?
I would definitely tell them to do it and not to think about it twice. It’s an experience like no other. This toy drive itself is one of the most rewarding experiences out of all the volunteer work I’ve done in the past ten years. I can tell you that because you’re really giving a child a toy and that toy goes a long way. We’ve heard different stories firsthand; for example, I have distributed toys to families that will only receive that gift for Christmas. So, volunteering really does become giving your own gift for Christmas. Like I said before, I would definitely encourage someone to do it this year or even next year. We have been doing this toy drive for ten years now and it’s a feeling that never goes away.
WHAT DO YOU HOPE THE ORGANIZATION WILL ACHIEVE IN THE NEAR FUTURE OR IN THE LONG TERM?
I think the mission is to expand. My goal would be to expand this toy drive not only in the city of Montebello but in surrounding areas as well. Either we partner up with other cities so that this becomes a regional event. I think throughout the years since the pandemic we’ve been able to see that this toy drive happens in different forms in other cities, but I don’t think of the magnitude of the one that we have here. So, I would definitely like to see it expand to other regions and that way we can reach other families as well.
One of the estimates that we got last year on the number of kids we give toys to every year is about 10,000 kids. The reason why we get so many kids in our toy drives is that we get a lot of them through school registrations. That’s how we spread the word so we can get a lot of kids from surrounding areas and schools. We give toys to the students and to their siblings, we also spread the word to churches.
DOES ANYONE IN YOUR LIFE PLAY A ROLE IN SUPPORTING YOUR INVOLVEMENT IN PROVIDING INSPIRATION?
My family definitely plays a big role. This is a family affair. My brother is one of my biggest supporters that I have. We have the same vision towards the community and we both love our community, we love to empower and help it. So, definitely having my family support helps especially when times get rough. Even during the pandemic, my family stepped up. I told them that we would be out there helping our community and my sisters were out there volunteering, passing out food, which was something that wasn’t expected for them to do given the circumstances. They were like “if you’re going to do it we’re going to do it too.”
IF YOU HAD A SUPERPOWER THAT COULD HELP ANYONE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? AND WHY?
That’s a very good question and it probably would not be one of the traditional superpowers. My superpower would probably be to take people’s pain away whether that’s sadness, whether that’s grief, or the loss of someone it would definitely be that. I dislike it a lot when people are going through things, especially when they have to go through pain. I also believe that kids shouldn’t experience that kind of emotion because when you experience sadness in the kid’s eyes that’s just another level of sadness and it really does get to you.