A holiday caravan of two pick-up trucks loaded with four Christmas trees each and several cars packed with tree decorations, Christmas gifts and 16 volunteers, pulled up in the driveway of a modest apartment complex in Santa Clara Dec. 10. The volunteers wore Santa hats.
It was raining pretty hard that Saturday afternoon as a couple of the men unloaded a six-foot tree and carried it into a ground-floor apartment for one of the four lucky families adopted for the holidays by Bay Area Pay It Forward.
How many men does it take to put up a Christmas tree? Well, it got pretty crowded as four of them struggled to set the tree up in the corner of the small living room, which got cozier each time another volunteer came in with another armload of wrapped gifts for under the tree.
The Ocegueda family of all daughters–Daleyza (2), Karen (7), Naydelin (11) and Michelle (14)–was wide eyed. Their single mom, Yaneli, was teary eyed as she watched the tree go up and the gifts pile up under it. Michelle translated for her Spanish-speaking mom.
“It’s a blessing to our family. We’ve never had a gift like this,” said Yaneli. “I appreciate this very much.”
“It makes me feel happy because today is my birthday. I’m 14 today,” said Michelle. When the volunteers heard her say that, they immediately phoned out for a pepperoni pizza and a birthday cake to be delivered.
With the happy task quickly completed, everyone hugged and waved goodbye, calling out “Muchas gracias!” “Adios!” “Good bye!” “Feliz navidad!”
The volunteers headed off to repeat the scenario, making the holidays brighter for three more Santa Clara families. Their last stop would be to drop off four trees at Santa Clara’s Bill Wilson Center for homeless and foster children.
Santa Clara mom Evangelina Trujeque, who is a paralegal, and her husband, Hector Trujeque, who works for UPS, are the inspiration and passion behind Bay Area Pay It Forward, a grassroots effort (not yet a 501(c) nonprofit) to enrich the lives of Santa Clara kids and families in need.
They got the idea for such an outreach in 2012 when they realized that they had purchased too many Christmas presents for their own blended family of seven kids. Instead of returning the presents, Hector suggested donating them to less privileged kids.
“I like the personal aspect of it. I don’t like purchasing a toy and just dropping it off. I want to take it myself,” said Evangelina. “It’s more fulfilling when you’re personally involved. A small effort can have a profound effect on a kid’s life.”
A small but expanding band of friends and family members has partnered with the Trujeques in paying it forward. All fund the outreach through personal donations. Also, they raised $1,300 by making and selling tamales one weekend last November.
“We made 600 tamales and sold them all,” said Evangelina. “We only had five left.”
The outreach of Bay Area Pay It Forward is not just at Christmas time. It expanded to include annual school backpack giveaways and free haircuts in August and Halloween costumes in October. Since 2015, the group has donated Easter baskets to the Bill Wilson Center.
Bridget Padilla’s husband, a barber, and her sister-in-law, a beautician, give the haircuts. Padilla brought her two daughters along to help deliver gifts on Saturday.
“What a blessing it is to be able to help,” said Padilla. “It’s important for my daughters to give back, too.”
Some people hear about Bay Area Pay It Forward by word of mouth while others, like Santa Clara resident Stevie Parseghian, run across it on Facebook.
“Evangelina is one person doing this. I could see the caring in her and how she’s very passionate,” said Parseghian, who adopted a family for the holidays.
John Urrabazo, Evangelina’s uncle, helps out, too.
“I have children myself, and it makes me feel good that I can help kids that aren’t privileged enough to afford trees or presents,” he said. “We should give year round not just because it’s the season of giving.”
“This is my passion,” said Evangelina. “My husband and I are not rich. You can think, ‘What can I possibly do?'”
“I don’t have a lot of time or money,” she said, “but if I can do this, anyone else can.”