'Tis the Season

How Houston's Car Culture Gives Back During the Holidays

A toy distribution event that's 30 years old expanded to serve Galena Park and the Cloverleaf neighborhoods.

By Sofia Gonzalez December 2, 2021

The Latin Fantasy Lowrider Club started its Juguetes Para El Barrio toy drive to give back to children in neighborhoods on the Northside of Houston.

Around this time of year Houston’s car culture comes together to give back to the communities that created them. For the city’s mostly Latino lowrider community, toy drives are a part of every December. Giving back is nothing new, some hold different drives throughout the year to help their neighborhoods out, and the Latin Fantasy Lowrider Club is no exception.

In fact, the club has been doing toy drives for a couple generations using their cars to draw people out to toy drive events and later deliver donated toys at Christmas.

“We've been doing this for so long that there's kids that you remember from when they were like eight years old, or nine years old,” Sotero "Shorty" Villarreal says. “Now, they remember as adults that we go through these neighborhoods and they bring up their kids sometimes.”

This year is the 30th anniversary of the club’s annual Juguetes Para El Barrio (or translated to English, "toys for the neighborhood" event).  Villarreal, the co-founder and president of the club says that his favorite part about hosting Juguetes Para El Barrio is seeing the kids he used to give toys to grow up and have families of their own.

Villarreal started the toy drive with his wife because they wanted to help out families who live in low-income areas where the kids probably won’t get as much for Christmas.  “We drive through the neighborhoods and give these kids the toys, and you know, put a smile on their faces,” he says. “We give to all the kids, whoever comes out, we give them toys and goodie bags.”

In the beginning, Juguetes Para El Barrio focused on the Northside of Houston, but in the past few years they’ve expanded, going to communities like Galena Park and Cloverleaf.

In order to gather the money needed every year for the toy drive, Latin Fantasy holds a benefit car show. Vehicles or bikes who wish to enter can do so for $25, while spectator admission is a money donation. Villarreal says that the car show is how they raise the most funds, pointing out that they’d love for more people to join them. “I wish we’d be able to do more, but we just do it because it feels good to give back to the community,” he says.

Anyone who wants to donate toys can drop them off at his lowrider shop, Shorty’s Hydraulics at 815 Post St.

Latin Fantasy Lowrider Club’s Juguetes Para El Barrio Car Show, 909 N. Loop West (next to the Whataburger and Home Depot.), Sunday, Dec. 5, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. If rained out, the event will be Dec. 12, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. For more information or to donate visit Instagram, or call 713-880-3119.

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