There were scary masks, clown masks, funny masks, pretty masks, safety masks, pig masks on deputies. It was, after all, the Halloween Caravan hosted by the East Aldine District.

Everybody also wore a smile.

The wildly successful parade sponsored by the District brought out happy trick-or-treaters for a safe and silly celebration that simply could not be dimmed by a pandemic. Costumes and candy will do that to a community.

But the smiling faces of costumed children, who grabbed more than 1,000 “boo bags” of candy and coupons, also inspired 15-year old Natalie Lumbreras.  The reserved high school student felt her heart “blessed” as she participated in the four-hour parade.

She decided that a holiday “Toy Drive” could bring even more smiles to the community.

Inspired by the teen, the East Aldine District will present “The Christmas Drive and Dash Christmas Toy Giveaway” on Saturday, Dec. 19.

The holiday festivities will start at 10 a.m. in the parking lot of Lone Star East Aldine College on Aldine Mail Route Road. The drive-by giveaway will include an appearance by Santa Claus, holiday music spun by a DJ, and area Monster Trucks.

Festive balloon arches will decorate the toy giveaway, with more than1,500 toys (and some grocery gift cards) to be distributed. Interested families will be asked to register with Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia’s office, which is working closely with the District.

Lumbreras, who attends Texas Connections Academy, had already started her own toy drive when she got the idea to go to the East Aldine District for a “little help” with decorating big gift boxes so she could collect toys at area businesses. She had already started collecting small gifts.

“It just really touched my heart seeing how happy the little kids were just to get some (Halloween) candy,” Lumbreras said. “I feel like I want to bless people because I have been blessed so much.”

The teen added: “My family is not rich, but we’ve got everything we need.”

“I think there are so many children out there whose parents are out of work. That makes me sad,” she said. “I think we can make the other kids happy, even with one little toy.”

Natalie is no stranger to the hardships suffered by area residents. She spent the summer nursing her mom and dad back to health after they were stricken with Covid-19. She became the family cook and caretaker.

Her parents, Laura and Luis Lumbreras, are back in good health. Her mom, Laura, owns and runs Pookie Pops, a specialty cake business.

With a strong sense of gratitude, the teen said she felt the need to “spread the blessings” she feels this holiday season.

She presented her idea for a toy drive in a recent Zoom meeting with the East Aldine District board. They responded with a $15,000 plan to distribute toys and food (grocery gift cards), said Nataly Perez, event coordinator for the district.

“The District wanted to help out in these hard times,” Perez said. She initially proposed a $10,000 budget, but the board added $5,000 “because they wanted to do food baskets or gift cards.”

Perez said she is moved by the community response to the generous teen’s idea.

“It’s really something to see so much love. This community is really pulling together. It’s overwhelming to see how, in this trying time, the community and the merchants are helping this area where so many of us have lived all our lives,” Perez said.

“That’s what the District is here for.”

About the big toy drive – inspired by a 15-year old who had a happy Halloween – “ Well, it’s really amazing,” Perez said.

And, if Santa Claus bears a striking resemblance to the Egyptian Pharaoh from Halloween, maybe the kids won’t notice.

Dean Luis Lucio, of Lone Star College East Aldine, came up with the idea of the Halloween Caravan to “do something” for area children.  Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the ritual Dia de Los Muertos carnival, an annual fall neighborhood festival, was cancelled.

“It was an amazing event that turned out great,” Perez said.

Lucio said his wife, Laura, proposed they dress as “a power couple,” for Halloween. Riding in the Lone Star car, she dressed as Cleopatra. That left him as her sidekick, the Egyptian Pharaoh.

“Still, I had a lot of fun,” Lucio said. “These events can be very cool.”


— By Anne Marie Kilday