The Kilometer of Toys

Rotary Santa Kilometer of Toys 1

  In an email exchange I had last week with a woman in Carmel, California, she mentioned that her family was hosting a Rotary exchange student. Two weeks earlier in a Monterrey, Mexico suburb, I had listened to Jesús González talk about friends hosting a Rotary exchange student last year. 

Rotarios AAlmost everyone knows the Rotarians, those business people who do community service projects. But did you know that Rotary was founded in 1905 by Chicago attorney Paul P. Harris as the world’s first modern service organization?  Today there are 1.22 million Rotarians in over 200 countries. Visitors to their extensive website, have a choice of eight languages including Japanese and Portuguese.

But back to Jesús González. The day I visit, three things immediately stand out in his study: the uncluttered appearance, various miniature John Deere machines and an array of electronic devices in the room. I already know that the trim man with the big black mustache and firm handshake has recently retired after a 31-year career with John Deere which explains the tiny tractors. González has been a Rotarian since 1989 and is a past president of the Sierra Madre Club. He starts our interview with a click of his laptop, and we’re watching the video at the end of this post which shows some of his club activities in recent years.

The Sierra Madre Rotary Club’s projects include:

  • Rotarians Day Care Projectworking with DIF, a government agency supporting families, to distribute papilla de maíz, a corn-based food supplement for children
  • collecting and delivering new and refurbished wheelchairs to non-ambulatory individualsdesigning, building and furnishing two daycare centers
  • building and outfitting a kitchen and dining hall
  • constructing playgrounds, sports fields and basketball courts in Mexico and a playground in New York in partnership with the Hancock, NY Rotary Club
  • raising funds for an organization fighting child cancer
  • funding scholarships for those international student exchanges
  • collecting and delivering Christmas toys

Rotary Kilometro del Juguete 2With one hour for our interview and so many projects, we zero in on discussing the next one: the annual Kilometro del Juguete, or Kilometer of Toys. At 9 a.m. this Saturday, November 30, a small army of volunteers will be ready and waiting along the Vita Pista, a popular walking and jogging trail in the heart of Colonia del Valle (see October 14 post). At first, donor traffic will be light, growing as the sun rises higher. Elderly couples, families with young children, teenagers from school clubs and joggers will all come with their contributions to the well-publicized event. They will create a kilometer-long line (0.6 miles) of presents for children whose families can afford little for Christmas. Every hundred meters or so, the line will make a U-turn. By afternoon, it will snake back and forth to reach a kilometer. The twenty-one Sierra Madre members, their spouses and other volunteers, including the Rotarian who could pass for Santa’s younger brother, will be a tired bunch, but their project will be far from done.

They’ll hustle the over one thousand toys onto waiting trucks provided by DIF, the government agency. From there, the gifts will go to storage. Over the coming days, a dedicated group made up primarily of the Sierra Madre Rotarians and spouses will spend many hours sorting and gift-wrapping, marking each present for the appropriate age and sex of the recipient. Their project will be complete only after they have transported gifts to various communities and finally handed out the last one.  

“When we finish that day we are tired but happy,” González mentions. “To think of the children who will enjoy these toys is extremely fulfilling. We are helping make the difference to many children. We always thank those that donate toys by telling them ‘Thanks for helping us help.’”

Rotarians Jesus Gonzalez and Roberto Patino“Being a Rotarian is one of the best things that has happened to me and my wife,” González continues. “We help those in need, and in exchange we have made some of our best friends in life.”

At one point in the interview, I ask for statistical information that González doesn’t have. “I’ll check,” he says, pulling out his BlackBerry. He continues our conversation while the phone rings on the other end. We’re out of luck when the caller doesn’t pick up. We return to the Kilometro del Juguete. González picks up the iPad on his desk and enthusiastically begins swiping through a collection of photos from last year’s event. I ask if, at a later time, he can send me a couple for this post. “I’ll do it now,” he replies, tapping my email into the device. He makes a few more moves and says, “Done.”

I leave thinking that Paul P. Harris would be gratified to know that the Rotarian tradition is thriving in Monterrey, Mexico in 2013.

See the Kilometro del Juguete video below.



  1. I enjoyed this story, Leslie. Thank you for writing it. So much goodness in our world – and it’s nice to read about it. The Rotarians are indeed making a difference all over the world.

    • Leslie Patiño says:

      Hi, Patricia. Thanks for your comment and for reading “The Other Side of the Peso.” Rotary really is impressive, both in terms of the organization’s geographic spread and its longevity.

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