Maria Acosta, a wife, mother and grandmother, lives with her large family in a too-small two-room apartment on the third floor of a dilapidated building on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles.
Gifts, glitter and glee often take a backseat to long workdays, an overflow of worries and too many bills during the Christmas season.
But this year, Christmas arrived early.
On the morning of Dec. 20, Archbishop José Gomez knocked on the door of the modest Acosta home with a cheerful greeting, accompanied by Adopt-A-Family volunteers with box after box brimming with gifts for Acosta’s five grandsons.
Through happy tears, Acosta expressed her appreciation for the “enormous, marvelous blessing for my grandchildren, because sometimes we just don’t have enough to give them many of the things they want, or even what they need.”
“It’s a sad situation, but I feel so much happiness and pride today, because all of you are here to share these gifts with my son and his family,” she said. “God bless and protect all of you for all of your work and effort to make this a reality for us.”
The 2014 Adopt-A-Family “delivery day” began in the usual manner, during the dark, chilly, pre-dawn hours in the parking structure of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown L.A., with volunteers of all ages sharing donuts, coffee and camaraderie while surrounded by enormous boxes overflowing with presents.
The archbishop led volunteers in a prayer at the Cathedral before they tackled the hours-long endeavor of gift deliveries to hundreds of needy families in and around the downtown area. The men, women and children volunteers then began the laborious task of loading boxes of presents into their vehicles and slowly filing out of the parking structure for deliveries.
“Feliz Navidad — Merry Christmas!” said a beaming Archbishop Gomez in greeting during his own morning gift deliveries to the Acostas and other surprised families. He passed out gifts to many happy, though often bashful, children, and spent a few minutes speaking with them and their parents before his next delivery.
Msgr. Terrance Fleming launched the Adopt-A-Family program with 10 “adopted” families 24 years ago. This year the program helped 469 needy families with children — more than 1,800 kids total — who live in some of the bleakest and most dangerous neighborhoods around downtown L.A.
Families received household essentials, such as food, toiletries, clothing, blankets and school supplies, in addition to requested gifts for every child.
During late summer, program leaders began going door-to-door in overcrowded apartment buildings in low-income areas to conduct in-home interviews with qualifying households to assess their needs and the Christmas wishes of each boy and girl. Their wishes are granted thanks to the staff members and volunteers from across the archdiocese, who help conduct interviews, wrap presents and distribute gift boxes on delivery day.
Individuals, families, schools and business provide essential financial support.
According to Lydia Gamboa, associate director for the Adopt-a-Family program, 2014 was “an emotional and incredible year,” with more donors and volunteers than ever before to help ensure that “every child has a magical Christmas.”
The charitable nature of Gamboa’s work has rubbed off on her close relatives and extended family, like her husband, son, brother and many others, including Carmen Valencia, who has volunteered for the past five years and was on hand for the recent delivery day alongside her husband and their 3-year-old daughter.
“The foundation of wanting to help others comes from my faith,” said Valencia, a Catholic. In past years, she has assisted with household interviews and helped with gift-wrapping, but mostly enjoys volunteering for deliveries.
“It is always an emotional experience, meeting all those families, but it feels good at the same time, to be able to do something to help others,” she explained. “Getting the opportunity to do this is great, and sharing this experience with my family makes it even better. It really makes you appreciate what you have.”