Liset Meruelo holds a special place in her heart for children facing chronic and often life-threatening illnesses at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach. Meruelo is the wife of prominent Cuban-American businessman Alex Meruelo, of the Meruelo Group, and 23 years ago, she launched the “Bear Hugs Toy Drive” aimed at delivering hundreds of stuffed animals and joy to patients hospitalized at Miller Children’s & Women’s.

During the holiday season, Meruelo Group employees, families and friends across Southern California collect stuffed animals that patients can use when they need a snuggly, comfortable toy on their recovery journey.

Over the last several years, the Meruelo Group has acquired several Los Angeles based radio stations, including Power 106, 93.5 KDAY, 95.5 KLOS and CALI 93.9, as well as TV station KWHY-TV 22. As the Meruelo Group grew, so did the “Bear Hugs Toy Drive.”

On Tuesday, Dec. 17, the Meruelo Group donated hundreds of stuffed toys, and enlisted the help of Power 106, 93.5 KDAY and CALI 93.9 radio personalities to hand-deliver the toys. The prominent Los Angeles DJs were joined by Disney and Marvel favorites: Spiderman, Aladdin and “Frozen’s” Anna and Elsa, as well as teen actor and musical artist Connor Finnerty. 

Musically, there was something for everyone. The youngest patients heard a live rendition of the hit “Frozen” song, “Let It Go,” sung by Anna and Elsa, while teens talked about the latest hip hop hits with the very voices who bring those songs to them over the airwaves.

Miller Children’s & Women’s isn’t a stranger to the healing power of music. It’s Music Therapy Program, part of the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Program, helps patients process their feelings toward their illness through the playing or creating of music.

“Music really is a universal language, so no matter what age our patients are or what language they speak, this event brings a smile to not only our patients, but their families and our staff, who know how difficult hospitalization can be during the holidays,” says Rita Goshert, manager, Child Life Program, Miller Children’s & Women’s.

As part of this year’s “Bear Hugs Toy Drive,” Liset and Alex Meruelo made a generous donation of $20,000 to help Miller Children’s & Women’s grow its Music Therapy Program to serve more patients in the coming year.

“We’re so grateful to have such an amazing group of employees, friends and family, who share our love for giving back to children in our community, either through music or even a small gesture like a teddy bear,” says Liset Meruelo. “It means the world to bring these children comfort and the opportunity to forget their illness, even for just a little while.”


12-year-old hematology/oncology patient Angel gets a bedside visit from beloved Disney and Marvel characters.


Cali 93.9 morning show host, Mando Fresko, shares a giant stuffed Olaf, the silly snowman from Frozen, with Miller Children’s & Women’s patients.


Representatives from Miller Children’s & Women’s accept a $20,000 check in support of the Music Therapy Program from Liset and Alex Meruelo.

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