Santa’s Helpers – Area residents and organizations pitch together to help the needy

by David Irvin, CNJ staff writer

A small caravan set out east from Clovis Sunday night on a secret mission. Their first target was an unsuspecting family of five a little down on their luck. Along for the ride were local radio personalities, fire department personnel and even a small squad of elves.

This was the Secret Santa team, and they were about to give $2,000 worth of gifts to a Texico family, the Vegas.

Several programs like these in the area were organized this season to help impoverished families.

The crew knocked on the door of the small blue house, and to the delight of the Vega family, started bringing in gifts.
They also presented the family with a new computer.

“I just want to say thank you, thank you very much for everything,” said Ismael Vega, who is out of work and relying on the kindness of others to support his family of five. “I didn’t expect all this,” he said, tears in his eyes.

His daughter Stephanie translated for her mother Maricela: “My mom wants to thank everybody who has helped us, all their prayers, and all their gifts, and anyway they have helped us.”

The Secret Santa project was led by local radio personality, Jeff McNaughton, who goes by the name Duffy Moon on his Mix 107.5 radio show. He set up shop in the warehouse of Preferred Painters, and Bill Baca of the Clovis Fire Department volunteered to enlist helper elves to carry items into houses.

On Dec. 9, McNaughton climbed atop Hotel Clovis and performed what he called a celebrity stunt, pledging to remain on the structure until $10,000 worth of donations came in from listeners. By the time the morning show ended they had already exceeded their goal, he said. So they doubled it.

“We decided I’d stay up there until the cops told me to come down, which was at 5:30 (p.m.),” he said.

By that time they had reached nearly $20,000, McNaughton said. With the cash, they were able to buy gifts for at least 10 families, rather than the five they originally intended.

On Monday night, they visited the family of Clovis resident Cathy Cordova, who was shocked when the volunteers showed up with gifts. More than a dozen family members and friends were in her house when Secret Santa showed up.

“God is good and there a lot of good people out there,” she said.

Other local groups also came together to provide the needy with presents for Christmas:

• The Fraternal Order of Eagles of Clovis held its annual shopping spree at Wal-Mart on Sunday. At the annual event, 100 youth are selected and given $100 each to spend at Wal-Mart.

“We interview the parents and kids at the house to determine if they should be allowed to go on the shopping spree,” said Frank Romero, who is a member of the order of eagles.

Romero said his heart is touched every year.

“Several years ago, we had a little boy who went to the auto parts store and bought a battery for his father’s car so he wouldn’t have to walk to work,” he said. “There’s a lot of stories that touch your heart.”

• The Cotton Patch Cafe enlisted the help of community leaders and radio personalities to serve at their restaurant. All the tips were then donated to Operation Santa Claus, a program that will supply gifts to approximately 65 children this Christmas, said Amy Keesee-Baize, assistant manager at the cafe.

• Volunteers from the American Legion Post 117 and enlisted Air Force personnel raised more than $1,000 to buy gifts for 25 children in seven different families this year.
Senior Airman Stephen White of Cannon Air Force Base solicited monetary donations from his wing and from the post to provide the gifts.

“I feel like I’m in a position that I can give back now,” White said. “I was fortunate to always get something for Christmas; I wanted to make sure that at least a few of the kids out there that weren’t going to get anything are now going to get something.”

A group of about eight volunteers came together Saturday to distribute the toys to different children, spending about four hours on the job altogether.

• Staff members from Barry and Sandia elementary schools visited the Retirement Ranch on Friday bearing gifts for the residents.

“It lifted their spirits, they were crying,” said mission director Barbie Usery. “We thought they were coming out to carol, but they came out just baring gifts, a carload of things they really need.”

They purchased slippers, lap robes, socks, lotions and figurines for the 104 residents, she said. Usery said the staff chose to give the gifts to the residents this year instead of having their traditional Christmas party, and the residents appreciated it very much.