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Help wanted: College student’s nonprofit gears up for holiday gift-giving for needy kids in Homestead

Ashley Gastelbondo's daughter Anayah, center, poses for a picture with Takira Brown, left, and Strong Survivor volunteers during December 2020 event in Homestead. (Handout)

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Ashley Gastelbondo moved to Homestead to live with her Colombian father when she was 15 years old. She fell in love in high school and was pregnant by 18.

Gastelbondo dreamed of having a happy family. She never imagined that years later she would end up a single mother at the steps of The Community Partnership for the Homeless.

Her caseworker helped her to get back on her two feet. She works as a server in Florida City, and she earns $6 an hour plus tips. She lives in a gated community with her four children.

“My cousin tagged me on a post on Facebook about a Christmas gift giveaway,” Gastelbondo said, adding her 9 and 7-year-old daughters met Santa and took home a tricycle, scooters, Barbie dolls, and little toys.

Gastelbondo, 28, said that’s how she found the Strong Survivors, a nonprofit organization that she said has helped her daughters celebrate Easter with a party at the park, have fun at Zoo Miami and Water Rapids in West Palm Beach.

Takira Brown, a 22-year-old Miami-Dade College student who grew up in foster care, wanted to focus on helping a group of foster care children. During the pandemic, the need in Homestead prompted her to partner with the Homestead Police Department to co-host give-away events.

“We need more people like her in our communities. I know I can call her if we need something for the girls and she will find a way to get it,” Gastelbondo said. “She really understands there is a lot of people struggling.”

The Strong Survivors also invited the girls to their back-to-school event. Gastelbondo said they had a pep in their step when they returned to class at Avocado Elementary.

“One of them had a new Wonder Girl book bag with a cape. It was full of really good school supplies,” Gatelbondo said.

Gastelbondo said she has seen Brown make a difference in a lot of families, not just hers, and she came when a lot of people needed help during the pandemic.

“It’s not easy to admit that. It’s hard. I do it and tell you all of this because a lot of people are out there suffering in silence. You have to put your pride aside, you know, and ask for help,” Gastelbondo said. “We can all do a little bit for each other to survive the day-to-day.”

Brown said their daughters and other children in need in Homestead have something to look forward to this December. The Strong Survivors partnered with the police department and the Chad Mason MK Law PA again to co-host the Super Hero Holiday Gift Giveaway.

“Last year we had 85 kids and each of them got at least two gifts,” Brown said about the organization’s first toy drive and the generous donors, adding she is again collecting toys that are new or “used in good condition.”

HOW TO HELP

The Chad Mason MK Law PA is receiving donations from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 633 SE 3rd Ave., Suite 4F, Fort Lauderdale FL, 33301. Brown said donations by mail are also welcome until Dec. 10.

The drive-thru event is from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Dec. 11 outside of the Homestead Pal Gym, at 600 SW 14th Ave. For more information about how to contribute to the Strong Survivors’ 2nd annual toy drive, message Brown on Instagram or e-mail TheStrongSurvivors@gmail.com. Brown also set up a GoFundMe page.


About the Author:

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.