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Rest assured, the true meaning of the holidays will be not lost on at least one Santa Barbara family this season. With her 9th birthday rapidly approaching, Maya Lewandowski recently decided the best gift she could receive would be to put a smile on the faces of kids who would be lucky to find one present under the tree.

“My goal was probably to make people happy with my Wigglos,” says the 4th grader from Hollister School in Goleta of the flat, furry creature, modeled after father Leon’s stuffed toy that he invented 35 years ago. “I thought that I could donate to the Unity Shoppe, so people could get Wigglos for Christmas,” says Maya, who contributed 25 of the rascals to the downtown Santa Barbara establishment.

The Unity Shoppe, whose origin dates back to 1907 when Pearl Chase formed the Santa Barbara Council of Christmas Cheer to tend to low-income seniors and children in need, helped more than 20,000 people last year. The organization has set up a market with a grocery-type store atmosphere where shoppers, sponsored by various local non-profits, can pick and choose what they need free of charge.

A second shop on State Street sells clothes and other various charitable items to the public.

“Maya wanted to donate Wigglos directly to families,” explains Leon of his youngest daughter’s decision to distribute the interactive toys to the behind-the-scenes market instead of the high-profile store. His oldest daughter, Madison, also became involved in philanthropies at a young age (see Valley Journal, Aug. 11, 2011, “Girls lend a hand to help to fight cancer”).

Madison’s Kidz for a Cure Event, which she started in 2008, continues to find ways to raise funds toward the battle against pediatric cancer.

Although Maya has been on the planet for less than a decade, the young artist has already experienced what giving to those less fortunate is all about. In 2010, she sold her art pieces, which helped capture more than $650 for Direct Relief International to ship supplies to victims of the Haiti tsunami. A little over a year ago, she also hosted an art show which collected over $1,400 for The Santa Barbara Humane Society. The Unity Shoppe’s president/director of Operations Barbara Tellefson is not entirely surprised by the youth’s generosity. “There are some very remarkable children in the world that have that (Maya’s) heart,” says Tellefson.

The hand-crafted toys, each put together by Maya, come in three different animal pelts: original tiger, neon tiger and cow/dog; and perform a squirming worm motion when touched. They cost anywhere from $3 to $5 dollars with online orders being at the higher end, likely to put a smile on the faces of children and adults alike.