City, MPS workers brighten some kids’ gloomy Christmas The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

City, MPS workers brighten some kids’ gloomy Christmas

December 25th, 2020 Mesa Tribune Staff
City, MPS workers brighten some kids’ gloomy Christmas
Mesa
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By Jim Walsh
Tribune Staff Writer

One by one, happy Jefferson Elementary School students jumped out of minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks and gleefully accepted a new bicycle from a group of generous Mesa firefighters.

Others ran to a pile of toys collected by a group of Mesa police officers, who seemed to enjoy handing out the gifts almost as much as the children who happily picked one and posed for pictures.

No one would confuse the fit police officers and firefighters with a storybook version of Santa, but they served as a much-needed substitute.

Those who coordinated the event – Jefferson Principal Genessee Montes and staff members, Mesa Councilman Dave Luna and public safety personnel – collectively gave a bright light at the end of a gloomy year for needy children who might have found nothing under the tree.

“Every year, there is a need. The need is worse than ever,’’ said Mesa Fire Capt. Steve Heyer, president of East Valley Firefighters Charities, citing the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ben Barrios, a Mesa firefighter, said he grew up in a low-income household similar to those that are home to the children who benefited from the newly-reinvigorated charitable efforts of the Mesa Bomberos, an association of Hispanic firefighters.

Barrios said the Bomberos –Spanish for “firefighter” – made arrangements for Target to donate gift cards that were used to purchase 25 new green and pink children’s bicycles.

The bicycles were lined up next to each other on a sidewalk outside the school. They quickly caught the attention of the little boys and girls, who didn’t seem to need an explanation that Christmas had come a couple of weeks early.

Mesa Department of Transportation employees combined generosity with safety by contributing bicycle helmets, which were hanging from the handlebars before the children arrived.

“I think it expresses freedom for the kids,’’ Barrios said, noting they can at least enjoy a bicycle ride even if their parents are struggling through financial or even physical duress brought on by COVID-19.

“They don’t want to park it. They want to ride it home,’’ Barrios said.

He said that giving to the less fortunate “reinvigorates the goodness of humanity. It brings back memories that I had as a kid long ago, waking up to find something under the tree.’’

Montes greeted families as they drove up to the school, speaking to them in Spanish and, to a lesser extent, in English. She had a list of who was receiving the coveted bicycles and she was checking it more than twice.

Montes estimated that about 30 or 40 families received either a bike or a toy for their children. All of them also received bags of food donated by children and their families from Las Sendas Elementary School.

Montes said she was pleased that families from a more affluent school would think about her students at Jefferson, where 90 percent of children qualify for reduced federal breakfast and lunch programs.

Many parents of children who attend the school lost their jobs during the pandemic-fueled downturn.

Montes said parents have told her that they were planning on skipping Christmas this year, using their limited resources for food and housing rather than toys.

“A lot of them said they weren’t going to have Christmas this year,’’ she said. “It’s a toy and a bike that eases these families’’ and gives them a little holiday joy.

Luna said Jefferson was a natural recipient for the event, with so many children coming from families living below the poverty level.

“My goal is to make everyone enjoy the season,’’ he said.

Debbie Nicklin of Mesa, a great aunt, was thankful for everyone’s generosity as she picked up a bicycle for Lyriq, a little boy. “It’s really great,’’ she said. “I would have been really strapped’’ to buy such a nice gift.

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