Adopt-a-Family volunteers help make Christmas brighter for L.A. families in need.

When Concepción Herrera opened the door to her one-room apartment, she was awestruck.

At the door was a priest, a councilwoman, a few cops, several photographers, adults and toddlers, and a couple of women with notebooks in their hands.

As soon as she saw the huge box full of gifts sitting in front of the door, Herrera --- still dressed in her nightgown, and speechless with surprise --- knew it was a different kind of visit. 

“Can we come in?” asked the priest, breaking the ice. It was Archbishop José Gomez who, together with Councilwoman Jan Perry, Los Angeles Police Department Captain Horace Frank and the Armours Family, from Our Lady of Malibu Church, was delivering several boxes full of gifts and a couple more containing groceries. 

It was one among many happy scenes during the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels’ Adopt-A-Family delivery day, which this year drew more than 500 volunteers who helped load cars with the gift boxes, or delivered them to 386 adopted families the morning of Dec. 17.

Before deliveries began, volunteers gathered inside the Cathedral for a 20-minute prayer service where --- before Archbishop Gomez blessed a sample of the boxes --- Msgr. Terrance Fleming, the program’s founding director, summarized its history and provided instructions for the newcomers.

In 1990, the founding sponsor Catholic Group adopted 50 families in the area of Skid Row, the first to receive presents in the name of the local Cathedral (then St. Vibiana’s). Since then the program has mushroomed, serving more than 1,200 children this year. 

Throughout the years many families, individuals, schools (more than 40 Catholic elementary and high schools this year) and businesses, headed by office supply store Staples, have joined supporting in the different stages of the program that starts in early September with the interview process to enroll families, followed by matching adopted and adopting families, gift pick-up, gift-wrapping and delivery.  

“Please spend some time with the families as you deliver the gifts,” Msgr. Fleming suggested during the service. “Get to meet them. This is about them.”

Nine-year-old Alejandro Herrera was already awake when his mother Concepción opened the door. It seemed like his face was not big enough to contain his wide smile when seeing all the presents. 

His relief was obvious when Archbishop Gomez told him he could open one of the gifts, and when he saw the nice warm jacket his smile became even bigger. His 12-year-old brother Sixto was barely awake, still lying on the only queen-size bed in the room.

Then Alejandro saw the scooter. “You can take it out and ride it,” Archbishop Gomez told him. 

It is the fourth time the Herreras have been blessed with presents donated by a family who has adopted them. This year the Armours, owners of spa chain Burke Williams, adopted the Herreras, as well as nine other families.

“This is an honor; it’s a gift for us,” Theresa Armour told The Tidings after telling the Herreras she wished that all their dreams come true.

The Armours have supported the program since their son Burke --- now married and father of six-year-old Ivan and three-year-old twins Aurora and Emmanuelle --- was eight years old. He still does the rounds with his parents, now bringing his wife Kate and their children along.

Back at the Cathedral’s parking structure, helping load cars was Veronica Escamilla, who became emotional when explaining why she was there with her son Abraham, both St. Anthony of Padua (Gardena) parishioners.

“We know these families don’t have the means we do,” said the first-time volunteer, fighting back her tears. “It’s hard for them.”

But at the William Meade housing project, Lincoln High School sophomore Biby Garcia nearly exploded with joy when two delivering couples asked her for unit 21. “It’s mine!” she exclaimed, pulling up the front zipper of her pajama jumpsuit and running upstairs to tell her mother Francisca, a Honduran single mother of two and grandmother of one who works in the Garment District.

Downstairs, still in pajamas and anxiously waiting for their own gifts were Biby’s neighbors, seventh grader Denisse Delfin, 12, and high school freshman Isis Luna, 14.  

 “This is about making Christmas real for these families,” said Cardinal Roger Mahony, who has supported the program since its inception in 1990 by participating in deliveries. This year he delivered to five families.

 “It’s a reminder,” added Councilwoman Perry, “that there’s always someone else who needs more than yourself.”

For more information about Adopt-A-Family, call (213) 680-8766 or visit and click on the Adopt-A-Family link.

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