Sophia Morales had a decision to make.
With Sophia’s 6th birthday approaching, her parents asked her if she wanted presents — or if she wanted to help the hungry with food donations or give fans to those without air conditioning. It was a lesson about the less fortunate, said Sophia’s father, Robert Morales.
So when she finally turned 6 on March 20, Sophia’s friends brought 16 box fans, mostly the 20-inch ones, to her birthday party, Morales said.
Almost three months later, Sophia and her dad on Tuesday dropped off their birthday loot at Austin Fire Station 29. Firefighters already had accumulated 60 or so other fans for Family Eldercare, an organization that provides services for older residents and those with disabilities in Central Texas. For almost 30 years, the nonprofit has held a summer fan drive to provide fans for needy households.
At the fire station, Sophia wrangled the fans, which were almost as big as her, into a van headed to a Family Eldercare warehouse. But why go without birthday presents?
“Because people need fans for summer, and sometimes people don’t have air conditioners,” Sophia said, noting that she still got a few presents for her birthday.
This year isn’t the first time Sophia has gone without birthday presents to help those in need. Last year, she collected food donations, and maybe, she said, for her next birthday she’ll do something even bigger.
“I want to get fans and food to give the people. Or maybe I’ll do, I was thinking about doing a clothes drive because sometimes people can’t afford clothes,” she said.
Family Eldercare’s fan drive runs through August, said Brittany Baize, Family Eldercare’s director of development.
“We know how hot Texas summers are,” she said.
Central Texas withers under extreme heat every summer, causing dozens of cases of heat-related illness, such as heatstroke or dehydration. For instance, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services medics responded to as many 19 people with heat-related illnesses over the Memorial Day weekend.
Young children and older adults are especially vulnerable to heat-related illness, health officials said.
Fans can be dropped off at any fire station in Travis and Williamson counties, Baize said, including some stations in Hays County.
Last summer, the organization distributed 6,500 fans, she said, affecting 9,000 families. This year, Family Eldercare is hoping to send out 7,000 fans, she said, noting Sophia’s contribution to the drive.
“We have amazing stuff like this every year, but a 6-year-old? That’s pretty cool. That’s pretty special,” Baize said.