The holiday season got a little brighter Wednesday for more than 200 families living in seven different migrant worker camps South County.
With the help of more than 40 volunteers, Second Harvest Food Bank and the Salvation Army, Gladys Anderson’s annual Christmas Project distributed upwards of 200 boxes of food and hundreds of wrapped gifts to the camps throughout the day.
For many families, these gifts are the only ones their children will be receiving for Christmas.
Norma Ruiz is a single mom living at the Villas de Paraíso camp on Amesti Road in Watsonville with her children, ages 17 and 15. Each one will receive one gift.
“I told them there won’t be any presents this year and they said “It doesn’t matter, Mom,'" Ruiz said in Spanish. "They wouldn’t have had presents if not for these."
Juans Cortez waited for the Second Harvest Food Bank trucks to arrive at Villas de Paraíso with three of her four children, ages 4-18.
“The gifts are a surprise, but the kids are always happy with their presents,” Cortez said. “They are always really good gifts. Last year we got a scooter, something to put the music in the computer, a sweater and a makeup kit. They have been awaiting this day with excitement.”
Each box of food that was distributed contained a roasting chicken, a 20-pound bag of fresh produce, bread and non-perishable food items like rice, tuna, peanut butter, corn, beans, and oatmeal.
At Villas de Paraíso, it has become a tradition for several families to hold a pot luck on the night of the Christmas Project delivery, each family bringing a different plate.
The presents are saved for Christmas Day, though.
“I have two boys, and yes, we are very happy. This is a tradition now. And they won’t open the presents until the 25th,” Augustin Cortez said in Spanish .
Anderson started the Christmas Project in 1978, when she was working for the Santa Cruz County Child Protective Services, and the outreach has grown considerably over the years.
“It started with one family, and just gifts, and this year we are helping 370 families,” Anderson said. “It’s going wonderful. We’ve had so many volunteers this year and people are so appreciative of what we are doing.”
Anderson visits the camps during the summer to get the children's wish lists from the parents, and with donations from the community, churches, and local businesses, she has been able to pull it off year after year.
This year over 20 firefighters from CalFire helped to unload the food and gifts at each of the seven sites, and many of them brought their children to help too.