Maria Estrada came to the United States from Italy 43 years ago for life-saving medical treatment. At that point, her diagnosis was six months to live. Now 61, Maria has given back to the U.S. ever since, in gratitude, through Maria’s Hope & Prosperity, a non-profit organization that helps children and families in the local community, providing for their most basic needs. “This country did so much for me; I wanted to do something for it, to show my appreciation.”
Children are dear to her because in each of their faces, she sees what her daughter could have looked like. Her daughter died in her sleep at 28 days.
“I have a son, Roger Mailliard, a grandson, Lucien, and a granddaughter Naima now. But it is my husband, Peter Hopwood, who helps me every day. He is from England and it was him who found the beautiful flowers I sell.”
Maria began by exploring what she could do to help the children at the Florida Keys Children’s Shelter and by furnishing single parents what they needed. “Every day I sell flowers, blinking toys and leis. Businesses buy bouquets during the day, and then in the afternoon and evenings, I sell single flowers at restaurants and bars.” All the donations benefit her charity.
Lazy Days Restaurant in Islamorada enables her to operate a showroom on their property. Guests can buy flowers there.
During Thanksgiving, Maria buys turkeys and other traditional fare and asks restaurants for help cooking them so she can deliver them to families in need.
At Christmastime, personal hygiene products, towels and one toy are given to children who might go without. “I gave 450 people these gifts last year. I have so much to do here.”
A future goal is to create a community center for autistic children and anyone with disabilities. She wants to model it after one she saw in England.
One Upper Keys business that has signed on to support Maria’s Hope and Prosperity is Unique Marine and all their employees. Unique Marine is a boat dealership that sells and services Robalo, World, Cat, Stamas and Cobia brands from its mile marker 93 location in Key Largo. Unique Marine is in its third year of helping and wants to encourage other businesses to climb on board in support of the charity.
Unique Marine’s Todd Ebelein said Maria came into his business to sell flowers. He started listening to her story. “In all those years I saw her selling flowers, I had never known she was supporting children in the Florida Keys and the Dominican Republic. I’d never seen anyone work so hard and I thought it was amazing. A lot of people know [about her work] but it’s the ones that don’t know that make me want to help get the word out.”
Ebelein has visited the Dominican Republic twice to see firsthand the generosity that Maria’s Hope and Prosperity provides to underprivileged children. Maria’s organization ensures that needy Dominican children receive at least one meal a day, as well as provides school uniforms so the children may attend school. “I have seen firsthand what an angel on earth can do for others.”
Unique Marine and Maria’s Hope and Prosperity also provided iPad computers to needy high schoolers last year, and school supplies for daycares and schools from Marathon to Key Largo this fall.
“We’re calling on other businesses and individuals to help. We need more sponsors and donors to take action by donating, giving time or items that we need. Anyone can help; the children are our future” said Ebelein.
To volunteer, participate or to give, those interested may call Maria at 305-509-1106 or make a donation at the website, www.mariahopeprosperity.org.