The Oak Ridger By Leean Tupper


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'Swap' to help kids in Bolivia

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Hey kids (and parents). Want to clean out your (child's) closet? How about your video game collection? Sports items? Toys you no longer play with? Want to help other children, who may not be as fortunate? If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," now's the time to tackle those projects because the first "Swap 'Til You Drop" event is coming this Saturday to Oak Ridge. Parents, just be aware. Your child may come home with more stuff. The Children's Museum of Oak Ridge will be helping impoverished children in Bolivia by hosting the "Swap 'Til You Drop" fund-raising event from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. May 17. The one-day event will feature food, music and games geared to children of all ages. The highlight of the event is a "swap" where children will have the opportunity to swap their used items for other children's items. An entrance fee of $10 per child will be charged. Adults are free when accompanying their child, and children under 3 are free. "The event is a great way for young children to learn how important it is to help others who are less fortunate," said Lori Santoro, a former Oak Ridge resident and founder/director of Casa de Sara, the organization that will benefit from the "swap" event. All proceeds will benefit Casa de Sara, a nonprofit organization that provides education and healthcare for Hispanic and indigenous children in South America. Proceeds from Saturday's fund-raiser will go to Casa de Sara's School in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where $10 can feed two students for one week, according to Santoro. To participate in the "Swap 'Til You Drop," children should bring delicately-used or new clothing, toys, DVDs and CDs, sports gear, room decor, jewelry, shoes, baseball cards, action figures, dolls, and other similar items. For each item they bring, the children will receive one ticket, which can be used to swap for other items. The dream for Casa de Sara started more than 20 years ago, when Santoro was in Mexico on vacation and saw a young girl, named Sara, peddling items on the beach. "I just realized then that I wanted to do something for the children of the world who just didn't have any opportunity whatsoever," Santoro told The Oak Ridger last week. Founded in 2000, Casa de Sara is a grassroots organization that has a school for 52 students in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, a scholarship program, healthcare education outreach programs, and periodic health care clinics. "They are the poorest of the poor in Bolivia. In our school they receive an education, which is a combination of Montessori and traditional," Santoro said. "But it's much more than just education. They receive daily vitamins, a heavy breakfast and lunch, and a snack at the end of the day. That's very important, because a lot of them don't eat at home." In addition to education and food, the school also provides full medical care for its students, Santoro explained. "This is a small organization," said Santoro, "but we make a big difference in people's lives. "Everyone who works for Casa de Sara here in the U.S., including myself, is a volunteer. That ensures all the money gets to the program. We have very little overhead, except for what's required by law," she explained. In South America, the organization is staffed by Bolivians, which provides jobs in the local community, Santoro said. To help the students at Casa de Sara, just bring your items to the Children's Museum at 11 a.m. Saturday. Enter at the front door and follow the signs to the gymnasium. Entertainment will include live music from the band Time Warp. Lunch will be available from Dave's Dog House. Cotton candy, popcorn and other goodies will also be available. Local Girl Scouts will be volunteering and Girl Scouts can earn badges by attending the event. For more information, call Santoro at (865) 690-3323, or visit the Web site at Leean Tupper can be contacted at (865) 220-5501.
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