Never too young to make a difference
RP’s Mario Herrera could be ‘Huggable Hero’ for 2013
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By Natalie Gray   April 26, 2013 12:00 am

“It feels really good to help and know you’re helping out the community,” said 8-year-old Mario Herrera in a phone interview. Herrera, a little boy with big aspirations, created a mobile donation store for underprivileged children to shop for holiday gifts for their parents. He is currently being recognized for his efforts by being named a possible “Huggable Hero.”

Build-a-Bear-Workshop has selected Rohnert Park resident Herrera as a semifinalist in their annual Huggable Heroes contest, a campaign dedicated to recognizing and rewarding young individuals who have made a difference in their community and, by contrast, the world.

Last Christmas, Herrera, mother Christina and father Mario created a store named A Child’s Place to Shop. As its name would imply, this store was designed with children in mind, but not a toy store; A Child’s Place to Shop is a store designed for children to shop to find presents for their parents.

“We’re proud of him,” Christina said. “He’s great. He’s a good kid, and he’s kind. It’s not a surprise he wanted to do something like this.”


A cue from mother

Though his mother claims the idea was entirely Mario’s, he says the thought did not come to him until after his mother explained what a nonprofit organization was. It was then he decided he wanted to found his own program, contribute to his community and help others. 

The program was funded and created solely through donations, supplied mostly from friends, family, efforts from Herrera’s karate studio and from his school, St. Rose of Santa Rosa.

Items donated were all meant for children to give to their parents as Christmas gifts, such as mugs, hats, scarves, jewelry and the like. With A Child’s Place to Shop being a mobile organization, the family of three traveled to homeless shelters and drop-off locations to set up their store. According to Herrera, everything on display and brought with them to ‘sell’ was free to the children customers. Items were wrapped upon purchase, and children left feeling they had worthy and loving gifts to give to their parents on Christmas.


A unique situation

Herrera is the only child under 18 allowed to participate in such a donation; normally, the shelters do not allow children who run the risk of possibly knowing the children of the shelter from school. According to Christina, though, her son is in the unique position because he has not gone to school with any of the children being helped, and he is thus allowed to help with his store. With his parents, Herrera helps set up donated items, wrap and gets to talk with the children he is helping.

So far, the store travels during the holidays, but for future efforts, Herrera would love to have his store become a permanent location where children could shop for parents and maybe even siblings and friends year round. Currently, the Herrera family is completing the paperwork to have their store recognized as a nonprofit organization.

A community effort

The Herrera family teamed up with some fellow community-serving programs to make their shop idea a reality, including the Committee on Temporary Shelter Family Transitional Housing Program and the Girl Scouts of Northern California. It was a member of the latter that recommended Herrera to the Huggable Heroes contest.

The Huggable Heroes campaign was created for the purpose of acknowledging dedicated, young individuals between the ages of eight through 18. Currently, the company has narrowed down its list of applicants to 80 semifinalists, Herrera among them. Next month, those numbers will be cut to 30 and by June, only 10 finalists will remain.

The Huggable Heroes campaign grants a scholarship to each of its 10 winners, as well as a donation to a charity of the winners’ choice. This year, the Build-A-Bear-Workshop has teamed with the Jefferson Awards for Public Service, a project that, much like the Huggable Heroes contest, strives to recognize Good Samaritan acts and reward those acts. With both the Huggable Heroes and Jefferson Awards, the 10 winning children will receive a scholarship and donation value of about $10,000.

Herrera doesn’t know of his nomination yet, but Christina feels he should win for all the hard work he’s put into such a good project. However, she also recognizes he is only 8 and that there is always next year.

“There’s just not enough holidays in a year to keep him happy,” Christina said. “He’ll keep doing this, so there’s always the chance for him to win in the future.”

On the Huggable Heroes webpage, there is a list of the 80 semifinalists, where Mario Herrera is listed as one of seven California residents. 

In May, Herrera’s A Child’s Place to Shop will be setting up shop for gifts for Mother’s Day and again in June for Father’s Day. 

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