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Marines join Santa Claus in annual holiday giveaway

Pueblo Chieftain - 12/24/2019

Dec. 23--With an air of confidence one would expect of a commanding officer, Sgt. Andres Bustos stepped up to address his company.

"To my fellow Marines, remember: It always feels good to give," Bustos began. "You have a good soul and as someone who is capable, it's your responsibility to do something about things that are wrong in the world. As Marines, we are proactive: We always find issues before they turn into larger problems.

"And right now, we are happy to use that time and effort to make our community a better place."

Looking on from his seat of benevolence was Santa Claus, a patriotic gleam in his eye.

"This makes Santa feel wonderful," said Truman Pooler, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War. "These are the new leaders of our country."

Monday at Pueblo Cooperative Care Center, 326 W. Eighth St., the Man in Red was joined by the men and women in dress blues.

Every Christmas, the care center hosts a gala designed to lift the spirits, and lighten the load, for those beset with challenges and hardships.

As a reflection of a partnership with the Pueblo Toys for Tots campaign that resulted in hundreds of new toys and gifts donated to the center, Bustos, a graduate of East High School, and a dozen of this nation's finest put a face and uniform to the generosity annually displayed through the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve's flagship holiday program.

"These are the men and women who make Toys for Tots possible," said Freddie Gallegos Jr., a Marines Corp veteran and organizer of the local campaign. "And we want the kids to see that."

The yuletide blessings began with an animal balloon creation, delivered with trademark humor and charm by Dave "Mr. Magic" Moncrief.

Inflated puppies, giraffes and dinosaurs in hand, the excited little ones made their way to Santa Claus, who welcomed them into his magical workshop abounding with treasure, and, more importantly, a reassuring blanket of compassion and concern.

In this special place, on this special day, no child was forgotten.

"Thank God for this," said Cindy Alvarez, three grandchildren in tow. "If we didn't have this, the kids wouldn't be getting nothing. We have no money to buy anything."

So vast was the altruism of those who pledge to be "always faithful," (Semper Fi), that it strained the recipients' gift bags to the point of breaking.

"My favorite thing is a basketball," said Ricky Trujillo, one of Alvarez's grandchildren. "I play with my cousin. She's a girl and she always wins. So I'll need to get my skills up."

Another grandparent, Angelo DeHerrera, was escorting little Ava through the considerable array of gifts, which also included filled stockings courtesy of the First Presbyterian Church, 220 W. Tenth St.

"She's been looking forward to this," DeHerrera said of his granddaughter. "And we couldn't wait to come today."

"I asked Santa for an art set and a horse," Ava offered, showing off her bulging carry-all.

"I don't think a horse will fit in that bag," said a volunteer elf who produced a fluffy stuffed animal. "How about a bear instead?"

A giddy laugh and smile served as Ava's seal of approval.

"This is a blessing from the Lord," DeHerrera added. "Praise God and God bless all the Marines for their wonderful work."

Corry Higbee, executive director of the care center, said partnerships like the alliance with the Marine Corps Reserve's Toys for Tots extends the center's benevolent reach.

"While the families are here today, they can acquire food," Corry said. "We joined the Emergency Food Assistance Program, and as a result of that, families are walking out of here with 60 and 70 pounds of food, and large families are walking out with over 100 pounds.

"Families can also take advantage of our subrecipient program, where they can get signed up for food stamps, and for those who qualify, receive a free telephone."

As a faith-based agency, the care center's focus is similarly on the spiritual needs of those it serves. Toward that end, an ornamental chest christened "God's Box" is always open to receive the supplications and requests for prayer from all who visit.

Like the center itself Monday through Friday, the box was jam-packed.

"Please pray for our family," read one note, written in pencil. "We are going through all of the turmoil dealing with money issues, health problems and are soon to be homeless. Children are stressed and depressed, ages 13, 11, 12, 9, 5, 5, 5, 6, 3, 1, 1, 1, three months old.

"Bring peace, comfort, love. Guide them in right direction to make good choices and to help them to feel loved. Bless our family."

Twitter: @jpompia


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