Four-year-old JJ Santellana's dream to provide homeless people with pillows came true Sunday.
JJ and his family collected more than 100 pillows and 34 cases of water bottles at the Victoria Mall entrance, said JJ Santellana's mother, Claire Santellana. They will give the donations to Mid-Coast Family Services in Victoria. Staff from the center will give the donations to the homeless.
"I'm shocked by the amount of donations we got. It's amazing," the 28-year-old Victoria native said. "Victoria really showed their support today. I'm really amazed and proud of Victoria."
JJ, who has cancer, got the idea to give pillows to the homeless when he and his family drove through downtown Houston, Santellana said. He saw homeless people gathering under a bridge and wanted to give his new pillow to them but realized it wouldn't be enough. JJ and his family travel to Houston frequently for his cancer treatment.
Santellana didn't think her son would be able to join them because he is neutropenic and has a low white blood cell count, she said. Santellana checked his temperature every hour to make sure he didn't have a high fever Sunday. If he had a fever of 104 degrees or more, he would have to go straight to the emergency room.
JJ was able to attend and was excited to be there, she said.
"It's amazing to have my son out," Santellana said. "I can't believe all the support the community has shown today. We're really blessed today."
Santellana planned the pillow drive to encourage her son to follow his dreams, she said.
"I want him to know that he can make a difference in the world," she said. "I didn't know if there were going to be two people or a lot of people. I wanted to show him as long as you try, that's what matters."
JJ's great-aunt, Henrietta Castillo, 56, said JJ is an inspiration to the entire family.
"I feel so proud to have him as a great-nephew," she said. "He thinks of others. It just comes so natural. Everything he's been through in sickness and to think of others - He doesn't feel sorry for himself. He's so strong. He's a fighter. A true hero."
Stephen Palacios, 46, of Victoria, and his family donated 12 cases of water bottles and 12 pillows. Palacios said he was fascinated with the way JJ thinks because he is young and going through a lot.
"This is part of a dream for him," he said. "We wanted to give him hope to try to help someone else that needs help."