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Two days before Thanksgiving, the trunk to a cream-colored sport utility vehicle swung open in the parking lot of Haven for Hope. Samantha Sanchez and six helpers unloaded 190 fleece blankets, folded in large plastic bags, and carried them inside the shelter. They also took in 21 pairs of onesies.

The delivery was spread beneath a Christmas tree, a gift for homeless children at the shelter. The organizer of this holiday cheer stood beside the tree and beamed, her heart filling with joy.

For the past five years, Sanchez has donated nearly 1,000 blankets to children in need through her nonprofit, Sam’s Covers. She made her first delivery to a hospital for a school project at age 9. Three years later, at 12, she formed a 501(c)(3) and became its CEO.

“It’s kids helping kids,” said Sanchez, now 14.

Her mother, Lya Sanchez, put it this way: “She wants these kids to know that someone is thinking about them.”

Later that same day, Samantha and volunteers from Sam’s Covers took 100 blankets to another shelter, SAMMinistries. The fourth and final delivery of the week brought the number of donated blankets to 560. “The total multiplies every year,” Lya said.

The CEO behind this children’s charity is a freshman at Reagan High School, an honors student who plays violin in the school orchestra, an enterprising teen who holds fundraisers, buys material, makes blankets, enlists volunteers, and tells everyone what to do, including her mom. The CEO also is a person of faith. Before each delivery, Samantha takes the blankets to a deacon at Holy Trinity Catholic Church for a blessing.

“She’s a little girl on fire,” Lya said.

Lya recalled a series of conversations in 2011. After delivering blankets to children for a Stone Oak Elementary service project, Samantha asked if she could make annual donations. Her mom dismissed the request. Samantha asked a second time. Her mother still said “no.” Samantha asked a third and fourth time.

It would be difficult, Lya explained, for Samantha to maintain her grades, attend to music, and carve out time to make and deliver blankets. And besides, Lya worked a full-time job and juggled the extracurricular activities of two children while her husband traveled.

“Our schedules,” Lya said, “are already full.”

Samantha took out the family calendar and pointed to late November.

“Mom, we’re doing it Thanksgiving week.”

Lya: “I have to work, sweetie.”

Samantha: “Then you need to take off.”

So, mom took the time off.

“Ever since she was little, she was a very strong-willed child,” Lya said. “You can’t stop her. You just can’t. She’s very passionate about her work. When there are obstacles, she finds a way to remove them. This is what she loves to do.”

When Samantha was in fifth grade, she made her first delivery to Haven for Hope. As large numbers of homeless children passed through the shelter, she recognized that her donation of 14 blankets would not meet the need. “Mommy,” she said, her voice soft, her eyes downcast, “we need to take more blankets next year.”

She delivered more than 30 blankets the following year. When Samantha got to middle school,  she expanded her reach, giving to children at Roy Maas Youth Alternatives, Child Advocates of San Antonio, and SAMMinistries. To recruit volunteers from Lopez Middle School and Holy Trinity Catholic Church, Samantha made chocolate covered pretzels and other desserts for a blanket-crafting party. To raise money for the material, she solicited gifts from businesses and held silent auctions.

As the volunteer effort grew, Lya advised Samantha to start a nonprofit. Samantha wrote a mission statement and filled out paperwork. In 7th grade, she became CEO of Sam’s Covers, which has a board of directors and a website. A headline below eight young, smiling faces explains: “Kids joining together to make a difference!”

Samantha has a favorite memory. This past summer, she and her team taught children at Roy Maas how to make blankets. One 8-year-old girl not only learned but caught the joy of giving. “She was so happy that she got to make something for another kid,” Samantha said. “It was as if she were donating a blanket to a nonprofit, which she was. She had so much hope and determination.”

To produce 560 blankets this year, Samantha held two fundraisers. One grossed $2500, the other $1700. More than 200 volunteers made about 500 blankets. The rest were donated.

“Every year, her eyes just shine,” Lya said. “When she was at her fundraiser, she came up to me and said, ‘Mom I’m having so much fun.’”

Leading Sam’s Covers has made Samantha an astute observer of human behavior. When she gets to college, Samantha plans to major in psychology. “I think it’s fascinating to see what goes on in people’s heads,” she said.

Interacting with children of all ages and backgrounds has taught her an important lesson. “We’re all different but we’re all the same,” she said. “We all want the same thing in life. People come from different places and experience different things. But at the end of the day we all want one thing: Love.”

Ken Rodriguez

Ken Rodriguez

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native and award-winning journalist.