EL ALTO, Bolivia – Thousands of children, accompanied by their mothers, waited in line for hours Wednesday in the Bolivian city of El Alto to receive advance Christmas gifts from the Body of Christ Foundation, or FCC, that collected 35,000 toys to distribute among children from poorer families.
Now in its 18th year, the initiative was started by German Priest Sebastian Obermaier, and enjoys the support of dozens of volunteers from the neighboring city of La Paz; from anonymous citizens who contribute small sums to bigger donors.
Eager children waited with their mothers long before Obermaier and his team began distributing the toys.
Leocaria Quispe and her five children, the eldest of whom is 10 years old, left their home early in the morning to be at the venue by 6:00 a.m. after finding out about the event on television.
Irma Nina and Carla Fernandez, both professors of religion, helped organize the massive distribution of toys.
Fernandez acknowledged not much was collected in El Alto while Nina told EFE large well-known companies contributed towards the collection.
A group of young volunteers, wearing yellow vests and who had been gathering funds for the event since October, danced to songs and carols.
As the organizers slowly opened up access to the area where the toys would be handed out – dolls to the girls and plastic trucks to boys – mothers and children made a beeline for the tents where they received the gifts, and one finger of each child was painted purple to ensure they didn’t come back for another gift.
Obermaier, who came to the city from Venezuela 35 years ago when El Alto was considered a suburb of La Paz where illegal immigrants from rural highlands lived, is famous for the social work done by his parish in the city.
According to a 2012 census, El Alto has a population of one million, 200,000 more than La Paz, making it the country’s second most populated city.
Meanwhile, the German priest expressed his satisfaction that politicians, public institutions and companies were replicating his initiative.
“To love is not to close oneself but to reach out to the person next to you,” he said.