Mateo Solis was about to turn 10 during a pandemic. So for his birthday, he asked his mother to help him plan a different kind of celebration: a fundraiser.
The idea came by way of Mateo’s grandmother, Jacinta Fernandes, who is an emergency hospitality staff member at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola. Toward the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, she told her family about “the urgency and panic in the hospital,” specifically regarding some of the younger COVID-19 patients, said Carla Fernandes, Mateo’s mother.
“It was really depressing and sad,” Carla Fernandes said. “And [Mateo] was saying, ‘I’m lucky enough now to be turning 10. Some children are not as lucky.’ “
Fernandes wasn’t surprised by her son’s compassion. “I always call him my ‘boy wonder,’ that's what he truly is. He’s just a very unique and special child,” she said.
So she helped him organize a birthday fundraiser. Before the big day on May 3, they went around their East Meadow neighborhood and distributed 150 flyers. The plan was for Mateo to collect donations on their front lawn and give the funds to a family affected by the coronavirus at Winthrop.
“The whole world was struggling,” Mateo said. “Thousands of people were dying everywhere. I wanted to make a little change that could just help.”
By the end of the day, that “little change” added up.
While Fernandes was setting up the front lawn in the morning, the first donor arrived: a man in a white pickup truck, who approached Fernandes teary-eyed and wearing a mask. He said, “What you’re doing is really beautiful,” and handed Fernandes a $100 bill, she said.
“I was just beyond touched,” Fernandes said. “I started to tear up myself.”
Mateo sat on his front lawn, which his mother decorated for his birthday with rainbow streamers and balloons, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. He called his fundraiser "Help Me Help One." People walking their dogs paused to help the cause; folks riding bicycles and driving cars pulled over to add a few bucks.
By the end of the day, Mateo raised $1,109.14 — far beyond the family’s expectations, Fernandes said.
“I felt really happy and very proud of myself,” Mateo said.
He added that in the middle of the fundraising efforts, his family and friends surprised him with a drive-by birthday parade. "I had no idea that was coming," Mateo said.
On Thursday, Mateo’s family went to Eisenhower Park to meet the family who would benefit from his fundraising. Fernandes arranged the details with Winthrop, and they connected her to a family in Roosevelt that was impacted during the pandemic.
Rony Garcia’s daughter, Sheila, 3, spent nine days battling the coronavirus at Winthrop. Mateo’s fundraising will be "a big help for my daughter," he said.
"I pray every day for their family," Garcia added, "because it's a blessing for my family."
Sheila's battle was especially difficult because Garcia couldn't be in the hospital with her. "You don't see what happens face-to-face," he said.
He called the meetup with Mateo and his family "very, very exciting." Coincidentally, Garcia also has a son named Matteo, who is 2 years old and came to the gathering, as well.
"It was truly meant to be," said Fernandes.
Mateo said he is happy about the entire experience.
“This is the aftermath of the whole entire thing I’ve been planning,” he said. “This is the ending and this is the best moment of it, so I’m very excited.”
He added that he will continue offering help to anyone who needs it, either during these trying times or otherwise.
“I always try to stay kind and I always try to help other people,” Mateo said. “I just want everyone to try to feel better during this tough time, and hopefully this can all go away.”
A note to our community:
As a public service, this article is available for all. Newsday readers support our strong local journalism by subscribing. Please show you value this important work by becoming a subscriber now.SUBSCRIBE