In many places in the Philippines, one will see underprivileged families in need of help for various aspects of their lives. Needless to say, most children from these families have to help make ends meet, hence they often prioritize the most basic necessities or utilities, over toys or other experiences.
Having witnessed the dire situation many families are facing, Lucena Ulep Calamayan, known to many as Luz, made it her lifetime advocacy to help alleviate the plight of those who are in most need of help. A community-based program volunteer coordinator of a non-profit organization, Luz began her volunteer work back in 1998 when she was still a government employee.
Luz takes the lead in many projects including livelihood programs, outreach programs, medical and dental missions, book donations, and feeding programs. One of the many remarkable projects she has been working on is the SM Bears of Joy, a campaign made in collaboration with SM Cares, the corporate social responsibility arm of SM Supermalls.
The Bears of Joy is a charity project of SM Cares and SM Supermalls that enjoins mall shoppers to share the simple joy of gift-giving to children: With every purchase of the Bears of Joy, another bear is given to the beneficiaries of the project. Luz says the project may seem simple and minimal but, she emphasizes, one should not underestimate the value of a soft, cuddly and comforting plush toy to a child. The experience of holding their first toy is, most often than not, a truly unforgettable moment for a child.
With these toys reaching far and wide—from urban poor communities to far flung areas—Luz shares some of her most unforgettable stories relating to the project.
She recalls a big fire that burned down a compound in Sto. Nino, Paranaque in early 2018. During the fire, one child was crying and wanted to go back to their burning shanty because she left her teddy bear there. “We had to calm the child down because their place has been razed to the ground. Luckily, may extra kaming bear so nabigyan namin siya.”
The SM Bears of Joy has also brought tears of joy to many children who have never owned a stuffed toy before. “Nangyari ito sa Kisolon, Bukidnon, remote area yun. Nung nabigyan na lahat ng bata, may narinig yung volunteer na nag-iiyakan. Akala niya nag-aaway yung mga bata so tinanong niya kung bakit sila umiiyak. Ang sagot nung isang bata, umiiyak daw sila sa sobrang ligaya.”
Luz’s distribution efforts and the SM Bears of Joy are especially known to kids in Metro Manila including numerous communities in Tondo, Manila and Payatas, Quezon City. She has participated in several donation activities led by the volunteer employees of SM.
Based on her many years of experience giving bears to children all around the Philippines, Luz shares, that for a kid who has not owned a toy his whole life, the bears are more than a prized possession. She also believes that children treasure that very moment they received the stuffed toy and that it will inspire them to work hard and give back in the future.
For Luz, genuine service knows no end. With a heart that never gets tired of helping, she sees herself continuing her charitable works for as long as her physical strength permits.
She encourages everyone, especially the youth, to start lending a helping hand.
“Any act of kindness, small or big will be much appreciated by the recipient. Simply giving food to the homeless is already like doing outreach. Start by sharing your blessings sa mga beggars or destitute families in the form of food, or clothing,” said Luz.
The SM Bears of Joy is an annual Christmas charity project of SM Supermalls, Toy Kingdom and SM Cares. A pair of toy bears are sold for P200.00, where one is kept by the mall shopper, and the other bear is donated for charity to orphans or underprivileged children from indigent communities all over the Philippines. Visit any SM Supermalls or Toy Kingdom branch to get your SM Bears of Joy and help make a child happy this Christmas.