Happiness is exuded when Eladio Ruiz speaks about the charity he founded. His deep passion and caring for others, casts a bright spot around him and draws you in.
Eladio grew up in Perth Amboy and attended Perth Amboy High School, later subbing there himself.
His family owned a florist shop in town, which he later took over and ran for 15 years. With his strong community ties, volunteer work was no stranger to him.
Whether it was a school pageant, a prom or an event, his florist shop was there to help. He also did fundraising for school scholarships.
Eladio started a “Giving Tree” in his church to collect gifts for children whose parents were suffering from AIDS. He said the need became less as people in the community with HIV were living more healthy and productive lives.
“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.”
– Jackson Brown, Jr.
He tells the story of one winter day in 2009. He had stopped by a local bakery on his way to work and a mom came in with her two children on their way to school. He said they were well kept, but he could see they were not of great means. One child had a coat on that was way too big for them and the other had a coat on with the sleeves too short. As he drove to work, it bothered him that there were people with need in his own backyard.
Eladio called his friend to tell her what he saw. She told him that her mom, Cathy would start a Christmas Club every year, after much scrimping and saving. She would use the money to donate three sets of coats, hats, scarves, and gloves to a local school for children in need.
In 2010, Eladio started “Cathy’s Kids” in honor of his friend’s mom. The first year, he targeted Perth Amboy elementary schools, asking for the size and gender of the ten neediest children. After sending emails to his friends and family, he was able to collect 109 coats!
Eladio enlists the help of his mom Lilly and his brother Ben. His mom gives up her entire home every year to store the coats that are collected. He laughed when he said that she has over 500 coats in gift bags, every Christmas season! She proudly goes out with him to deliver them every year.
After five years,” Cathy’s Kids” has collected over 2,005 coats! The organization has now branched out to serve children in need in the Woodbridge and Newark school districts. They now donate coats from Pre-K through high school. This year will be the first year that the Lambertville school district will receive donations.
Eladio is the Director of Special Events for NJIT in Newark and has been doing that for the last 14 years. With a busy career, he never falters in his dedication to his cause.
I asked him what his biggest reward was. He said it’s the day he delivers the coats before Christmas. He said, “It’s the same excitement when you woke up to open presents when you were a kid.” The rewards are in the delight of the children who some, for the first time, are receiving a warm coat.
He said the hardest thing is for him not to burst into tears upon seeing the children’s reactions. The story that sticks to him is of two brothers who thought they were in trouble when called down to the school office. When they received their coats, they were jumping up and down and hugging each other in disbelief!
The goal of “Cathy’s Kids” is to provide coats while protecting the privacy of the child. A donor is given the size and gender and the schools distribute them. Some schools pretend they are won in a raffle, so no child is singled out.
Eladio now has Team Captains responsible for collecting 10 coats. He said his hope is that “Cathy’s Kids” continues to grow nationally. He said his dream is that this would become an epidemic. An epidemic of kindness would be so fitting for a man who has given so much to others!
For more information go to www.cathyskids.wordpress.com.