Jaiden Muñoz is kid from Estancia with a hobby that he hopes to turn into a toy drive for kids.

At 8 years old, Jaiden is learning to cook, and his specialty is his grandma’s recipe for sweet rice, one of his favorite foods. The youngster will be trading portions of his dish for toys for other children for Christmas this weekend in Estancia.

“My grandma used to make me sweet rice every day I stayed the night at her house,” Jaiden explained. Now that he’s older, Jaiden has had the family recipe passed down from his grandma and started making sweet rice by himself.

Jaiden said he’s excited he’ll be able to get toys for kids and also make one of his favorite foods. “I’m excited to get toys for kids,” he said, adding, “I wanted to give them some presents just in case their parents can’t take them somewhere or get them something so they can be happy.”

sweet rice

Jaiden in the kitchen. Photo courtesy of Brenda Muñoz.

Jaiden said he can wash and cut fruits and vegetables and wants to start learning other dishes besides sweet rice, like chicken marsala soup. He said he wants to be a cook when he grows up, and he has his eye on a local spot, saying, “I want the restaurant in Estancia.”

“With everything going on this year, he’s been home a lot,” Jaiden’s mom Brenda Muñoz said. She started teaching her son how to make sweet rice with supervision. “He grew confident enough to make bigger portions so he thought maybe he could have fun making it, selling some to keep busy with everything that’s going on since he’s not going to school,” she said

At first, he sold the sweet rice for $2 dollars a cup, but now he’s asking for toys for other children for Christmas in exchange instead of money. Jaiden wanted to start a toy drive for other kids in his community that might not have any presents for Christmas, he said. “I feel happy because I get to give the kids a happy Christmas,” he said.

Jaiden and his family are setting up their toy drive on the corner of Inverness Avenue and Main Street in Estancia on Sunday, Dec. 6 at 12:30 p.m., so people can drop off toys in exchange for Jaiden’s sweet rice.

But his mom said she is a little bit nervous because there hasn’t really been a large social media response to the toy drive so far, and the number of Covid cases is rising.

“Since this is an actual exchange, you have to be in person,” she said, adding, “With Covid going on right now, we were nervous to even start selling rice because we didn’t know if it was going to be seen as a good thing or seen as something that we shouldn’t be doing right now with everything going on. I prepared him for that. … We’re going to go out there Sunday, and he means good towards other kids in the community. I have to tell him even if it doesn’t work out, he’s doing good, he shouldn’t be discouraged.”

Muñoz said she gets emotional when talking about her son because of his giving nature and empathy.

sweet rice

Jaiden making his sweet rice. Photo courtesy of Brenda Muñoz.

“He pays attention, he’s very observant with things that [other kids] are going through, perhaps,” she said. “This year he will be blessed with a Christmas gift to go to The Polar Express [train ride in Durango], and because his dream is coming true, he thought that maybe he could make somebody else’s Christmas dreams come true—maybe even with just a toy and some kind of happiness even if they don’t have gifts this year.”

She said whether or not Jaiden wants to pursue cooking as a future career, she’s still teaching him to cook as a life skill.

“We’re raising him to learn that cooking is not something that’s just a gender thing,” she said. “Cooking is for [him] to be more independent. … Even at his age, he can start learning to be independent and learn to be careful with cooking because it’s serious. That’s more why he’s learning to do all this because he has fun with it, he enjoys it. We’re trying to teach him as he grows up more responsibility and accountability.”

If Jaiden’s toy drive is a success, the Muñoz family plans to continue it every December. He said his grandma “is happy I’m doing this.”