Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 Report

By Mac McCormick
On Christmas Even 2009, the three caravans of five cars each made their annual trek to the little homes just north of the town of Guadalupe Victoria in Baja, Mexico. The term, "homes", is more than a little stretch. Dwellings are made of old wood pallets, tin roofs, a piece of fabric to cover their windows and doors and the only sanitation facilities are the outhouses in the front yard. The running water is limited to the irrigation ditch in the back yard. It is in that ditch that the visitor can regularly see the women doing their wash on old scrub boards. It is from this same irrigation ditch that the household carries their hygiene water in 5-gallon buckets. The drinking water is from the spigot on the corner a couple of blocks down the dirt road.

Chris and Cathy Christensen served their senior LDS mission in Sonora and Baja Mexico. They admit, though, there are occasional living quarters that resemble the conditions of 'our irrigation bank', but they have never seen the quantity of homes like we visit just north of Guadalupe Victoria. Without exception, everyone who has traveled with us on those Christmas Eves agrees, this is where our contributions are most needed on an ongoing basis.

Since Cathy has promoted herself to Chairman (woman) of the board, appointed Mac McCormick, President and we jointly drafted Avey Tebbs as Executive Vice President we decided to have an annual debriefing. We had such meeting on December 30th. We thought you might be interested in the bottom line.

Yes, those occupants of the canal bank are still in need. It is like the Savior said, " have the poor with you always (Mark 14:7)." Not limited to the first-time, comments were, "This experience is humbling. I wish all my children and grandchildren could see how grateful these impoverished families are." Other oft heard comments include:
"I wish we could do more."
"Did you see that sweet lady's smile when she got the red knit cap/ that quilt/ those hot pads?" "How could someone not be touched when at our last stop they all sang "Feliz Navidad" to us?".

Quilts- Arizona West RV Park has been our single greatest supporter of tied quilts. They let us know that 2009 was their last year to assist us. "Most of our quilters do not come down anymore; consequently, you cannot depend on us in the future as you have in the past."

We have taken this as an indication to slightly shift gears. Cathy's Kids will still continue to be grateful for any quilts, afgans, etc., donated to the cause, but we have decided to buy fleece blankets when they come on sale at Wal-Mart. One of our participants has a daughter who works at Wal-Mart. LaRee is going to start making phone calls to the committee to take advantage of those sales. We have bought them in the past for $2 each. Not as elegant but certainly a gesture of our concern for their warmth and comfort.

Caps & Scarves- We have discovered many make pot holders, knitted caps and carves while watching TV. Those items are always treasured. The only problem we have is that there are too many of those caps that are even too small for a preemie. Keep up the good work. Also, we occasionally discover a winter vendor closing out his stock of ball caps for $.50 each. If anyone runs into a situation like that, BUY THEM! If this is a personal financial sacrifice, do not be embarrassed to ask Mac for a reimbursement. We have cash donations for exactly those types of purchases.

School Suppliers- When you see an opportunity to take advantage of a closeout sale on these products after school begins, again, spiral notebooks, pencils and sharpeners will go a long way. As for backpacks (a real winner), we can usually pick those up here in Yuma at the Dollar Store.

Hygiene- I mentioned that our targeted people are very clean, in spite of their impoverished conditions. From Mamas to bebes, they are aware of cleanliness being next to Godliness. They all speak the same word whether in Spanish or English, Champu or Shampoo. Outside of the young boys asking for soccer balls, shampoo is the most often requested single item. Here again, unless you find a hotel changing its name and needing to get rid ofthose little bottles at not cost to us, Cathy, Avey and Mac can get these hygiene items at the dollar stores here in Yum anad save additing them to your usually overloaded cars on the trip south.

Animals & Dolls- These items are easily found in all combinations everywhere from garage sales to thrift stores. Unfortunately, we cannot use many of the donated items in this category. Animals 3-fee high are too big to carry. The tiny stuffed animals you may see hiding on the dashboard of an RV are too small, except for a few infants. We are looking for clean teddy bear sized animals, and dolls clean and ready to give away. Any new looking dolls from Barbie to Betsy Wetsy will be accepted and utilized.

Cars- Not to look a gift horse in the mouth- the wooden cars we have received in the past are truly a labor of love. They are very much appreciated by us, but not as enthusiastically by the boys. They go wild for the little Match Box or Hotwheels cars. For those who love to create in wood (I am one of you), the Board of Directors suggested we would like to sample the reception of the same sized wooden trains.

Balls- When you mention balls to the boys, just be prepared to run for your life. Just like kids anywhere in the world, balls always get attention. Unfortunately, used inflatable balls are not worth sorting. One out of ten might hold air through the day. If I had my way (as a giver and receiver) we would rather see all the used softwballs we can get. With ball gloved priced out of practicality, hardballs do not get the use of softballs. Along with softballs, bats (new or used) are always at a premium for us. At $15-20 each, your money could go further in other areas of focus.

The most covered of all are soccer balls. If anyone doubts that statement, I can share with the reader, while handling out the limited number of soccer balls I had, I felts like a running back in the NFL. I literally had 20-30 boys tugging, grabbing, screaming and doing anything you could imagine to get a soccer ball. It is the only time you will see that kind of aggressiveness from these usually polite , well-mannered receipients. If you can find new #5 soccer balls at $5 or less, I will personally reimburse you up to 30 balls.

Everyone who participated this year was grateful for the experience, especially those who invited their children and grandchildren to join us. This year was better than last and next year will be better yet. Thanks to donations from those interested in seeing wher eyour money goes, we will continue this wonderful labor of love for years to come.

We, Cathy, Avey and I wish to thank you for your support in the past and participation in the future. We are about the Lord's work.

God bless you all, as we look forward to bringing a little Christmas joy to those most in need.

-Cathy's Kids' Committee

P.S. from the Editor: Photos are coming soon!

Q&A with Cathy

Q: How did Cathy's kids begin?
A: Chris and I were on an LDS mission in Hermosillo, Mexico, and as part of what we took with us were our Mr. and Mrs. Santa suits. (We'd played Mr. and Mrs. Santa for many years in Idaho where we're from.) After a Christmas party at the church, one of our local leaders, a Stake President asked us if we'd go visit his mother, an 80-year old woman who'd never seen Santa. When we arrived at her house and got out of the car we heard a little voice saying, "Santa Claus, Santa Claus!". We looked over and saw a little 5-year old boy who'd spotted our red clothing and wanted to catch our attention. We told him, "un momentito" and entered the home of the woman we'd come to see. We spent some time with the older woman and I'd almost forgotten the child, but when we went out, there he was. It'd looked as if he hadn't moved a muscle and in his bright, expectant eyes we saw that he'd been waiting for us. We looked in our Santa bag and miraculously happened to have 2 bags of candy left, one for him and one for his little sister. We said "Feliz Navidad" and went home.

It was 2 days later that the Stake President's wife received a message that this particular little boy had just been diagnosed with leukemia and they believed he only had 6 months to live. Upon hearing this, we called the little boy's mother and told her that Santa forgot something and that we'd be back.

After that, we went shopping for toys for this boy and his sister and returned to their home. When we arrived, the house was crammed with people. They'd been waiting for us and had a special chair ready for Santa. The little boy was the first one on Santa's lap and just sat there entranced by the Santa's face. He caressed it and his beard as if confirming to himself that Santa Claus was real. We left that night, not knowing that that little boy had changed our lives forever.

Soon after our mission, in 1991 we returned to Yuma for the winter. Chris and I'd been saving our quarters and when Christmas came around, we decided we'd use it to buy toys and other needed things for the poorest children in villages in Mexico right across the border. It became a tradition, something Chris and I did alone for several year, but little by little friends began joining us. Some of the first people to join us were Geri and Bob Nelson from Montana. The Westons, the Jones and the Nelsons were others who learned of what we were doing and wanted to join. This last year there were 46 of us who made the trip, which included 25 new people who'd never gone with us before.

Q: How is Cathy's Kids run?
Cathy is the Chairman (woman) of the Board. Mac is the President and Organizer Extrodinaire. Avey is the Executive Vice President, also known as the go-getter, the bargain hunter and super-shopper.

People from our church congregation ( known as a brand or ward) are some of the biggest contributors to the cause. Over the years we've learned what people need and want most. When people find out about our project and want to contribute, we'll make suggestions based on what is needed most. The in-kind donations are stored at my home until a couple of weeks before Christmas when a group of us gather to sort and divide the donations. On December 23 we load up our cars (this year it was 15 vans and cars) and on December 24 we all meet at a designated location and then head south across the border to find those people in need.

Q: How many people have donated to Cathy's Kids?
A: I have no idea! Hundreds and hundreds. Over 19 years many people, snowbirds, their children, their grandchildren and their friends have donated. There was a group of women in an RV Park, Arizona West, who over the last 3 years have donated approximately 25 quilts a year.

Q: What do you give away?
A: Blankets (full and baby), fleece throws, knitted caps, mittens, scarves, stuffed animals, pot holders, dolls, candy, wooden cards, hotwheels, gloves for men, caps, baseballs, bats, soccer balls, hygiene kits (include tooth brushes, tooth paste, shampoo, hairbrush, makeup and a piece of jewelry), money (envelopes with $5), school supplies.

Q: Do you have a favorite memory from all of the years you've been doing this?
A: Yes, the little man in the shed. Just last year, we had stopped and had given out blankets. I'd given one to a middle-aged woman who started talking to me in very rapid spanish. I asked her to slow down and she just said to me, "ven...come". She led me through a fence to a small, thrown-together, wooden shed that was probably big enough for a twin bed and nothing else. She knocked on the door and opened it. A small, elderly physically disabled man looked up and said "que?". She said to him, "Wake up, the angels are here," and she took the quilt she'd just been given and laid it over him. It just stunned me. That's why we do this every year. I'm sure that for them what I do is so small, but it's everything for me. It's what Christmas is all about.