It was the first time that Bishop Conaty-Our Lady of Loretto High School senior Ashley Huitron had visited Skid Row.

“I’m the only child and my mom is a single mom, but I’ve never suffered deprivation like these families,” she said while standing at the door of the second apartment she was about to enter. It was Sept. 6, the first day of scheduled visits to less fortunate families hopeful they could be served by the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels’ Adopt-A-Family Program.

Huitron was accompanied by classmates Teresa Canul and Janely De Santiago, who knew what to expect since they have supported the program for the last two and five years, respectively. 

“It is a first-hand experience where you learn the hard conditions in which people live,” said Canul, a South Central L.A. resident. “It helps me be a better person trying to help others.”

Although the volunteer work helps them with community service credits at school, they said what they appreciate most is to see how the families who lack many things only ask for what they really need.

A few minutes later that was confirmed as the students listened patiently to Apostolia Arzate timidly provide a list of her family’s needs while her children, four-year-old Emily and three-year-old Rafael, played around the small Stanford Avenue apartment.

The list: socks, underwear, winter jackets, shirts, blouses, pants, dresses, all in small sizes, plus bed sheets and toys. What about Apostolia, who suffers from a thyroidal condition that causes her pain and weakness, and her husband?

“No, we don’t need anything,” the mother replied. “This is all about our children.”

Finally, with some prodding, she murmured, “Ok, I’d like a blender, a perfume and a black bag.” For her husband, a thermos for his lonche (lunch), working boots and a sweater.

“This felt surreal,” said Huitron. “While she [Apostolia] was talking I was thinking of the things I bought this past weekend at the mall.” 

“Every year I do this,” added Canul, “I appreciate more what my parents give me. I put everything into perspective.”

Similar answers were provided by Sandra Perez and her husband, parents of three-year-old Joshua Alexander and nine-month-old Alexandra. They live down the street from the Arzates in a one-room apartment with no heating, and share a bathroom and kitchen with other tenants. With his job in the construction industry they can barely pay the $420 rent.

“Fortunately, we’re in good health,” Perez told interviewer Lydia Gamboa, Adopt-A-Family coordinator.

“I also grew up in an apartment, but it was just me and my mom and we had a heater and everything else,” Huitron said after leaving the Perez home. “This is unfair, and you can’t dispute the fact that they are in need because you see it with your own eyes.”

This is the fifth year that Jorge Maza has volunteered with Adopt-A-Family. “When I learned that this is a direct charity with no middle man involved, I decided to join,” he said, while waiting for his next interviewee at the William Mead Homes, a public housing development in the industrial downtown L.A. neighborhood of Mission Junction.

He was one of nearly 20 interviewers that showed up on a September evening to meet with families like the Felixes. He made jokes with Zachary, 11, and his nine-year-old brother Ageo, while their mother Teresa answered questions about their needs: from clothing to an iron and school supplies.

“It’s about bringing happiness to these families and the effort is so minimal,” said volunteer interviewer Anabel Gonzalez, a certified public accountant who has supported Adopt-A-Family for the last three years. Aside from helping with interviews, every year she and her family adopt a family in need.

Like the Changs. “It’s very hard for me to ask for things,” said Siam Chang, mother of Dylan, five, and Marissa, three, and a domestic violence survivor.

She said she hesitated when she first got the letter about Adopt-A-Family, but decided to take advantage of it for the benefit of her kids. Otherwise, she admitted, it would have been difficult for her to get them Christmas presents.

Gamboa  shared more stories of others in need:

---Family T04: “When we pulled up to the apartment building where the Salgado family resides, one of the volunteers asked, ‘Are you sure they know we are coming?’ The building appeared somber and dark, with almost no sign of life. We asked the family of their hardships and the parents explained how in November their jobs shut down until January. ‘They do not give us any choice in the matter, they do what they want, and we go with it, I mean what else can we do.’ The parents both work in downtown Los Angeles’ Garment District and with four children to feed, clothe and provide for, Christmas means more about their faith than ever. ‘We know that God will take care of us, always has and always will.’”

---Family T05: “For Nora, this year has been especially hard. She told us how just three months ago, her husband was at the wrong place at the wrong time and is now incarcerated. She is eight months pregnant and is stressing more than ever. Without her husband, she has had to figure out how to pay the rent and bills. ‘Once I pay the bills, I have just enough for me and my 9-year-old to get a few groceries. Boy do I know what it means to stretch a dollar!’ Now with her due date approaching, the stress is almost unbearable. ‘As a mother, you just want the best for your children: It’s not supposed to be like this.’”

For more information on Adopt-A-Family, call (213) 680-8766 or visit and click on the Adopt-A-Family link. Donations can be sent to Adopt-A-Family, 3424 Wilshire Blvd., 3rd Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90010; please make checks payable to Adopt-A-Family.

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