A record 435 families in the skid row area of downtown Los Angeles received boxes full of gifts and food Dec. 15 during the annual Adopt-A-Family delivery day, an outreach program of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, coordinated by the archdiocesan Mission Office.Hundreds of volunteers started gathering by 6 a.m. at one of the Cathedral’s conference rooms, awaiting the short prayer service traditionally held to bless one gift box representing the hundreds of boxes that are delivered to less fortunate families who cannot afford Christmas gifts for their children.Quietly serving hot chocolate to the volunteers was María R. González, a Cathedral parishioner participating in the event for the first time, and one who knows firsthand what it means to not receive toys on Christmas.She clearly remembers, as a little girl, when her father had left their family, and the only source of income her mother had was selling jewelry. It did not provide enough for the family. But on Christmas day, the parish pastor arrived with boxes full of presents sent to them by other church families.“My mom was crying and I didn’t understand at that time what was really going on, until I grew up,” said González, now executive assistant at the Japanese-American National Museum. This is why “to bring this kind of happiness to the families really sticks to my heart and when I learned about the program I wanted to be part of it,” she continued. As her family did when they received the presents, the recipient families learn that “there are people out there who care about them, supporting them during difficult times.” That was precisely the message that Msgr. Terrance Fleming, head of the archdiocesan Mission Office, wanted to convey when he had the vision of starting the program from the former St. Vibiana’s Cathedral.During the prayer service Msgr. Fleming told the volunteers — accompanied by Archbishop José Gomez, Cardinal Roger Mahony, Councilmember Jan Perry and members of the Los Angeles Police Department — how, when he was pastor at St. Vibiana and walked the vicinity, he could see the families in need.“My dream was to make possible a magical Christmas for the kids,” he said. “These gifts represent an awful lot of love.”He thanked the volunteers who have been involved with the program since its inception, as well as the Mission Office team and Staples, which participated this year with 23 trucks that were loaded for gift delivery.“This is beautiful for us as we reflect on what Christmas is all about,” Archbishop Gomez told about 500 volunteers gathered for the prayer service, most of them participating for the first time. The service included a prayer led by Msgr. Kevin Kostelnik, Cathedral pastor, that was dedicated to children killed in the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.Among the participants were Deacon Rich Boucher and his wife Darlene of St. Cornelius in Long Beach, who have been supporting the program for the last 13 years.“This gives us the Christmas spirit,” he said, “and the best part is meeting the families. It’s like a Christmas treasure hunt and the treasure is meeting the families.”Expecting to have a lot of fun were Immaculate Heart of Mary sixth graders Hazel Drymon and Sarah Assad, who woke up at 5 a.m. to be at the Cathedral on time together with their mothers. About 90 students from the Los Angeles school participated during delivery day and the school held food and toy drives two weeks prior in support of Adopt-A-Family.“We love it,” said Nancy Drymon, Hazel’s mother. “It’s a nice experience and I like that she [Hazel] can see a different aspect of life; different families with so much need.”Also there to deliver gifts for the second consecutive year was Don Bosco Tech soccer team from Rosemead. Coach Diego Back said the occasion offers an opportunity for the students to understand there are “less fortunate families who need a helping hand from the community.”Not surprisingly, the deliveries were well-received by the recipient families. Sebastián Tomás and his wife Teresa Félix were visibly excited when Archbishop Gomez entered their one-bedroom apartment holding a huge stuffed dog for one of their five children.“Wow! It has a lot of gifts!” exclaimed 10-year-old Hageo when he saw the box full of gifts, some of which the children unwrapped right away.“I’m so happy that we got these Christmas presents,” said Jasmin Olea, a single mother of two sons — nine and a three-year-old — whose gifts were delivered by Cardinal Mahony.“He told me these were from the church and my kids are so happy,” said the seamstress who said spends more than half of her earnings on the rent of her one-bedroom apartment on Griffith Avenue.For more information about Adopt-A-Family, call (213) 637-7501, email [email protected] or visit www.olacathedral.org/services/aaf.html.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2012/1221/adopt/{/gallery}