10-year-old from Ukrainian Village a finalist in nationwide Sun-Maid competition

If selected, Samuel Loza wins a $5,000 scholarship and his school gets a year’s worth of Sun-Maid snacks.

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Samuel Loza, 10, stands near the front of St. Helen Catholic School, in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood, Tuesday, March 30, 2021.

Samuel Loza, 10, is a finalist for Sun-Maid’s first board of imagination.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A young student at St. Helen’s Catholic School is a finalist in a nationwide storytelling competition for the chance to help Sun-Maid create new snack ideas.

For Samuel Loza, 10, telling stories is more than a hobby — it’s his way to connect to others.

“When I was in Brazil, storytelling was one of the ways I made friends,” he said.

Born in Chicago, Samuel has already lived in three countries — the United States, United Arab Emirates and Brazil — because of his mother’s job at an international confections company. He and his family currently call Ukrainian Village home. As a world traveler, Samuel has also studied Arabic, English, Portuguese and Spanish.

Samuel said playing with his baby brother Nico gives his imagination “another level” that he can then channel into his stories. At the encouragement of his parents, Samuel entered the competition for a chance to sit on the inaugural Sun-Maid Board of Imagination.

As board members, kids will learn about Sun-Maid’s history as a growers’ cooperative, how raisins are made, sustainability practices and how Sun-Maid turns whole fruit raisins into snacks. The group will also provide input to guide future decisions (like snacks!) at the company.

Each child on the board will receive $5,000 to use toward college tuition and their school will receive $5,000, too. Sun-Maid will also give each kids’ school a year’s supply of snacks.

The finalists, all between 6 and 12 years old from across the country, were asked to tell a short story about a sour watermelon raisin and how it came to be. In their individual videos, the kids also present their innovative snack ideas and tell voters a bit about themselves. The videos are under three minutes and each was filmed unrehearsed — meaning, the kids are making up the story on the spot. Samuel is one of 15 finalists, but only the five kids with the most online votes make it to the board. To watch the videos and vote for Samuel L., go to www.sunmaid.com/imaginethat/.

In the final round, Samuel took his love for Marvel superheroes and created the story of a raisin named Jack, who gets knocked into a “sacred, sour” river and the only thing that wakes him up is watermelon juice. Jack becomes a Sour Watermelon Raisin destined to fight evil and defend the “little innocent fruits.”

Samuel’s dad, Oscar Loza, said his son’s neighborly disposition makes him perfect for the Board of Imagination.

“We are super excited for him to have this opportunity. He has always been very charming, great with words, and friendly with everyone in any situation,” he said. “He figures out how to make friends anywhere we go.”

Voting closes on Friday, April 2, and Samuel said he’s in the running not just for himself and his school, but his family, too.

“My cousin entered it and didn’t make it past the first round, so I’m hoping that I can win it for the both of us.”

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