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Florida woman helping unemployed families with food and gifts this holiday

"This year we learned that we only have each other to rely on."

When the pandemic first hit, Vanessa Brito was a full-time caregiver for her sick mother. She decided to put her skills as a political consultant and activist to good use and now spends any spare time she has advocating for people who couldn't get through Florida's unemployment system.

“What matters to me is that one, the state is responsive and that people get what they deserve,” Brito said. “And that two, people have some sense of, or like a decent quality of life.”

Today, even on Christmas, she’s still at it. All her time is dedicated to those struggling with unemployment because of COVID.

“If I can make it better and I can make it easier for them in terms of navigating and getting what they need and what they deserve then I’ve done my job,” Brito said.

For the holidays, she wanted to go the extra mile and help unemployed families in a bit of a different way.

“The intention was let’s do Amazon wish lists so that kids can have their Christmas gifts fulfilled,” Brito said. “And to kind of take that pressure off of the parents.”

People were able to build the wish list for their children and then donations started flooding in.

“Was every wish list fully fulfilled? Probably not. But at least every child got at least one gift,” Brito said.

 With the community pitching in to help, hundreds of families woke up this Christmas morning to gifts.

Credit: Vanessa Brito

“This is why I started this journey with unemployment and trying to help,” Brito said. [It] was always because I wanted people to feel like there’s always something to look forward to, there’s always something positive, and there’s always something you can give back.”

Brito says many families were ashamed to ask for help.

“There’s people that came to me for help and said I’m embarrassed,” Brito said. “[They said] last year I was doing really well, you know, I got my kid an Xbox last year and this year I have to do a wish list and have a stranger fulfill that request.”

But the help didn’t just stop at presents for Brito.

“We got a lot of emails from families who said my rent is behind, my electric is behind, but honestly all I want is a meal for Christmas, and of course that’s heartbreaking,” Brito said.

Out of her own pocket, she started buying and delivering hot meals to families in need.

Credit: Vanessa Brito

“That’s been probably the most rewarding part of this, is seeing somebody be just so happy because they have a plate of food,” Brito said.

“I mean if that doesn’t signify or illustrate the hardship that this year has brought on people especially as we get to tomorrow, you know when everybody it’s going to kind of lose everything, then I don’t know what does,” Brito said.

Her mission is to be able to make things a bit easier for families struggling through this pandemic. 

“To know that somebody is enjoying a meal with their family today,” Brito said. “And know that there’s a child that has no idea what their parent is going through because we were able to make it better, that’s worth it, 100 percent.”

Brito even got emotional thinking back to her own childhood.

“When I was little, we were poor and we didn’t have money for a Christmas tree,” Brito said. “So, for me to be able to do that for someone, you know, to give somebody what I didn’t have, absolutely!”

“You can always pay it forward. Someway, somehow,” Brito said.

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