Making towels into teddy bears

2018 Orphanage Christmas Preparations

Thanks to generous donors and volunteers like you, the 2018 orphanage Christmas preparations are just about complete! Friends of Santa Maria Orphanage (FOSMO)  has gifts ready for 72 children plus their mamitas (caregivers), who live at the orphanage in Olon, Ecuador. 

Some of the filled backpacks for girls
Some of the backpacks for girls

Making a list, checking it twice

The Christmas party preparation list is almost complete!

💰 ✔️ Raise funds to buy Christmas gifts for everyone at the orphanage 

🛍️ ✔️ Purchase gifts for 72 kids and their mamitas 

🎒 ✔️ Fill backpacks with gifts –  shoes, clothes, school supplies, toys, etc. 

🎄 ✔️ Make and decorate 600+ Christmas cookies 

🍽️ 🔲 Make and deliver Christmas dinner for orphanage

2018 Orphanage Christmas preparations – raise funds

In October, FOSMO hosted an annual fundraising dinner & silent auction in Montañita, Ecuador. Unfortunately, I missed the 2018 event due to a family emergency but you can read about the 2017 party here. The raised funds, plus donations to the FOSMO website, cover the cost of the gifts. 

2018 Orphanage Christmas preparations – purchase gifts

You may be thinking how easy gift purchasing might be – we order it all online with our credit card and have it delivered, right? Actually, most purchases in Ecuador are made in person with cash. In addition, Ecuador’s mail system is likely not the same as where you live (click here to read about Ecuador’s mail system). 

Purchasing gifts involves driving a few hours to the business who gives the best deal on backpacks, then to the business district with the best deals on clothes, etc. Once the vehicle fills, everyone drives back to unload at a FOSMO board member’s house. 

Staging room empties as the backpacks are filled
On backpack assembly day, the staging room empties as the backpacks outside fill

A few mamitas help with shopping for personal items since they know the children’s preferences best. Because all mamitas are normally at the orphanage 24×7, shopping with mamitas is scheduled during a school day when the fewest kids will be at the orphanage. 

Some items, like notebooks, are less expensive in the USA and Canada than in Ecuador. Those who visited North America in late 2018 filled as much space as we could in our luggage with orphanage Christmas gifts.

We wrap each child’s gifts in a new backpack that replaces their well-worn backpack from the previous year. 

2018 Orphanage Christmas preparations – fill backpacks

Due to well organized team leaders, assembling the gifts was a quick 2 or so hour process. All gifts and backpacks were brought to the assembly location and volunteers arrived at 10am. Backpacks hung from sturdy poles while we filled them.

Backpacks hang in a row as we fill them
Backpack filling

All school aged children will receive school supplies (notebooks, markers, scissors, pencils, etc.) in addition to shoes, clothes, necessities, and fun items.

Almost everything for each child fit neatly into their new backpack, with the notable exceptions of bath towels and pillows. The pillows are being delivered prior to Christmas Eve. The towels were rolled into cute teddy bears and will be given with the backpacks. 

Volunteers turning bath towels into teddy bears
Kids bath towels are morphed into teddy bears

2018 Orphanage Christmas preparations – make cookies

While I and other volunteers assembled backpacks upstairs, another well managed team of volunteers decorated more than 600 Christmas cookies downstairs. The cookies arrived that morning freshly baked by generous volunteers. 

Some of the 600+ cookies baked and decorated for the orphanage
Frosting drying on cookies destined for the orphanage

2018 Orphanage Christmas preparations – Christmas meal

Volunteers will cook and deliver turkeys on Christmas Eve morning. In addition, everyone who attends the Christmas Eve party brings a dish for the meal. With visitors from around the globe, the kids enjoy a wide variety of foods in their Christmas meal.

When will kids get their gifts & cookies?

Now that everything is ready, when do the kids get to open gifts and eat cookies? 

We gather on Christmas Eve morning at the orphanage. The children deliver a beautiful and moving performance. It is the only day of the year the orphanage is open to the public. The kids use the performance, which they practice for weeks, as a thank you to all donors. 

After the performance, Santa gives the filled backpacks to each child. For some new orphanage arrivals, this is the first new backpack they have ever owned. 

Santa presenting a child with gifts on Christmas Eve, 2015
Christmas Eve, 2015

Once Santa distributes gifts, we dry our tears and hug the kids and mamitas, we visitors depart. The kids and mamitas then enjoy their Christmas meal together, without the distraction of visitors. 

While exiting, first time visitors often marvel at the pure joy they just experienced. As a result, everyone looks forward to returning to this magical place next year. 

Previous orphanage Christmas party posts

Christmas Eve at the orphanage is my favorite day of the year. If you are wondering what the day is like, you can read about the 2016 party here. Erwin Musper, who is at the orphanage every day, wrote about the 2017 party in this guest post (he tells why the orphanage is the happiest place on earth). Visit Erwin’s website,, to see his amazing work at the orphanage. 

2018 FOSMO projects

I joined the FOSMO board in January, 2018. This year, we became a USA nonprofit foundation, launched our website,, our Facebook page,, held two fundraisers and (most importantly) helped to improve life at the orphanage. Originally formed to provide Christmas gifts for the kids, FOSMO now also assists with infrastructure projects and emergency needs. 

FOSMO board of directors in front of the orphanage
FOSMO Board of Directors, April, 2018

FOSMO 2018 completed projects included the following:

  • Building and installing fútbol (soccer) nets
  • Replacing termite infested structural beams in the boy’s dormitory
  • Constructing a roof over an open concrete play area
  • Replacing a worn out washing machine

We also ran a special fundraiser for formula to feed four babies. Each one has a special dietary requirement as prescribed by a doctor. Thanks to your generosity, these babies are getting their medically necessary formula for the next year.

More posts about the orphanage

Click here to read additional posts about the orphanage on Emily in Ecuador. 

Close up of Christmas cookies for Pinterest
Some of the backpacks for boys - Pinterest

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I am a US Expat in Ecuador. I grew up on a Minnesota farm, worked in IT in California's Silicon Valley, then moved to a coastal Ecuador fishing village. My goal is to share Ecuador with you, one snippet at a time. Topics include attractions, compassion, ecotourism, Ecuador products, everyday Ecuador, and flora and fauna. Please let me know what you would like to read more about!


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