I'm not known for gushing. OK, in some circles I'm not known for being
passably pleasant. But given the response to a column last month asking
for help in gathering supplies for the El Faro Orphanage in Tijuana, I
can't help but gush over the outpouring of generosity so many of you
showed for roughly 70 kids who live three hours away in another country.
Burbank resident Barbara Sykes organized the collection and delivery.
The day a column asking for rudimentary supplies was published, Sykes was
excited to get 20 calls -- before lunch. And the calls kept coming. And
they kept coming. Weeks later, as vans were being loaded, calls were
Though we offered to go anywhere to pick up any donations, an endless
stream called for directions, most personally delivering enormous bags of
rice and cases of powdered milk to Sykes' front porch. In days, her
living room was packed wall- to-wall, then the dining room, and then, a
Apparently, the original column was photocopied and posted on bulletin
boards, and also e-mailed, throughout the area. Two weeks after it was
published, Sykes was still getting 40 calls in a day from people looking
to drop off baby wipes and cereal. Companies organized employees. City
officials talked to community groups. Student athletes made pitches to
their team mates. Supplies for El Faro poured in.
In May, the first time Sykes organized a caravan of minivans and other
family cars to deliver supplies, we had eight vehicles packed to
bursting. Last Saturday, 16 cars, vans and trucks made the climb up a
steep, rocky road to El Faro, a dusty collection of tiny buildings
perched atop a retaining wall made of tires.
Together, we carried more than a ton of rice, a ton of beans, and
cases of powder to make hundreds of gallons of milk. There were pallets
of toilet paper, a trio of cribs, and much, much more. Shade' Ogunleye,
the 15-year-old from Valencia whose resolve to make a difference at El
Faro first hooked the rest us, even came up with a used swing set. The
collection of beams and bolts was taken apart here to be reassembled in
the orphanage's courtyard. We were so heavily loaded, most drivers
stopped before leaving town to add air to tires nearly flattened under
I'd list every donor, if only as a gesture of my deep gratitude. But
it would look like a page from a phone book. The best I can manage is a
list of those who made the trip Saturday, hearty souls who donated
supplies, then gave up one night to load cars, and the next day to drive
or ride for hours, then unload. They even had to assemble shelves we
brought for storing the bounty. Any spare time went to playing with the
residents of El Faro, and then we all headed home.
The latest "Elves of El Faro" are Carmen & Tom Duran, Dave & Patty
Augustine, Don Brown, Barbara Lazar, Jane Wrinkle, Dave Golonski, Claudia
Aguayo, Randi & Russell Tamillo, Jesse Rico, Jane & Cristina DiBattista,
Jim Brown, Evelia Garcia & family, Mary Lou Howard, Tom & Linda Jamentz,
Grant & Darlene Lewis, John & Ellen Shadday, Don Destouet, Roland
Williams, John, Ursola & Caroline Sasorski, Alison & Shade' Ogunleye and,
finally, representing the Burroughs High School girls' varsity
cross-country team, Hilary Duran, Brenda McDonald and Carolyn Brown.
Brown, I must add, didn't give up just any Saturday. On this
particular Saturday she had been named the Burbank Leader's Female
Athlete of the Year.
I've written about El Faro a couple of times. It's time to let
someone else give you their perspective.
The following letter was written by one of the track team members,
15-year-old Hilary Duran:
Above everything, I would first like to thank all the citizens of
Burbank and Glendale who contributed to the food collection. This was my
second trip to the El Faro Orphanage, and I must say, it was an awesome
experience. From the moment we pulled up the hill, there were kids
standing and looking at us, just waiting to be held, and to be loved.
It's not every day that 35 people come to the orphanage and visit with
the children. As I tried to hold three kids in my arms, I saw how hard it
was for them to try to love somebody, even if it was just for a short
while. Many of the older kids were peeking through the windows and into
the vans, trying to see what kind of goodies we had brought. But not the
little kids. All they wanted was a little love and attention. This is
something that really opened my eyes and made me think.
It was while holding 4-year old Alex that I realized how incredibly
lucky I am to have a family to come home to, and my own bed to sleep in,
and really no worries to carry on my shoulders. I take for granted the
little things in life, many things that these children will never be able
to see and appreciate.
My friends and I spent the day unloading trucks, building cribs and
playing with the children. We even got to serve them fresh watermelon,
something they get once a month, maybe. But in doing this, we also began
to realize how happy the kids are, despite the poverty they live in. They
were just so excited, partly because there was a swing set being put
together for them. Most had never been on a slide before.
As the day went on, I practically forgot that I was in an orphanage. I
was having a blast being with these kids. Just seeing them smile was
enough for me, and it's something I will never forget. I didn't feel like
a volunteer, but more like a friend. At the end of the day, when it was
time to go home, I begged my mom to bring home some of the kids. I wanted
to bring them all home.
To everyone who contributed, the food we took will be put to good use.
It's a great feeling knowing that the kids will not be going hungry for a
long while. If you can donate items, or help in any way, please call
Barbara Sykes at 843-2948. Your donation is another child's treasure.
I used to think that my life was full of obstacles and challenges, but
now I know that I have it easy. I live a very privileged life, a life the
children of El Faro will never know.
WILL ROGERS' column appears in every edition of the Leader. He can be
reached 24 hours a day at 637-3200, voice mail ext. 906, or by e-mail at