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Making Christmas: La Joya students donate to community

‘Twas the week before Christmas, when all through the town, students in La Joya were dressed like elves from head down. Instead of a sleigh and reindeer to pull, yellow school buses rode down street with presents bountiful.

Families remained at home without a clue in their minds of the gifts to be brought to them one stack at a time. For 29 years, La Joya ISD has donated to families in need; for 10 years Juarez-Lincoln High School has helped with the deed …

20141219 LJISD Gifts-of-Love DSC 2519This year, 47 families were identified as needing a Christmas by Juarez-Lincoln High School. The National Honor Society and other student organizations collected sizes, ages and descriptions of other necessities for the Gifts of Love and Adopt-a-Family drives. Each family was given a sponsor in October and the sponsors are responsible for donating and wrapping items for their family.

La Joya High School delivered their gifts Dec. 12, but Tuesday was Juarez-Lincoln’s turn to make their runs, followed by Palmview High School on Wednesday.

“Today we’re giving out presents to our community, especially those that need it more,” said Juarez-Lincoln senior Valeria Moncada. “We all came together to do this. Even if it’s just three or four presents, it was just to bring a smile to those families that maybe weren’t going to have a Christmas present this year.”

Families must have a child in the La Joya school district in order to be eligible for the drive, and the school social workers are the ones who identify families in need. Each year the families are rotated between the Thanksgiving and Christmas drives so as to avoid giving to any one family multiple years in a row.

Sponsors can be either any department, student organization, class or single person, depending on the size of the family they are given. There is no limit on the amount of gifts supplied, but the social workers only ask that they provide items such as food, clothes and appliances instead of money.

Erika Salinas was a social worker for 11 years before becoming the graduation specialist at Juarez-Lincoln this year.

“We’ve been able to do it for so many years because we have the support of so many people that are willing to give back to the community. Because if they didn’t care, it would never take place,” Salinas said. “The clubs, the kids, parents are the ones that actually do all the work. It’s so successful because of them.”

As the buses made their stops, students and staff piled the gifts in living rooms, on front porches and lawns. Some homes didn’t have a single gift under the tree, if they had a tree at all, until the students came by with their presents.

Entire houses were often the size of college dorm rooms or small mobile homes. Student Council president Robert Delgado said one of the homes he visited was about the size of a car.

Several of the students admitted that they had never experienced a living situation like those receiving the gifts, and described the experience as humbling.

“What was going through my mind was that we should have done more,” junior Thalia Alaniz said. “Even though we did a lot and a lot of people contributed, we should do more of this, not just for Christmas. We should be doing it anytime we can to help out.”

… So, the families waved from their doorways as the school buses departed with a smile that remained on their faces since the gift-giving started. The students exchanged hugs and thank yous and tears from those who couldn’t find words to say. They sang carols, snapped photos said “Merry Christmas” and went on their way.

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