PAJARO—For more than 30 years, the Casa de la Cultura organization in Pajaro has held its annual Food and Gift Christmas Giveaway, offering families a chance to receive free presents, food, clothing and more during the holiday season.
Sister Rosa Dolores Rodriguez, executive director of Casa de la Cultura, founded the annual event that has continued to grow in scope every year, with more groups joining in to help donate, organize and distribute items to hundreds of low-income families.
Usually held at the organization’s small headquarters and parking lot, it was adapted last year to comply with Covid-19 regulations. Cars lined up along Salinas Road and eventually began rolling through the grounds at Marinovich Cold Storage (owned by the Alvarez Brothers), picking up packages as they went.
This year, organizers decided to continue with the new format at its Dec. 20 event.
“We wanted to keep things as safe as possible,” Sister Rosa said prior to the giveaway. “We thought it was the best option for everyone.”
Between 80 and 100 volunteers helped to put the event together, serving more than 1,500 people in total. River Valley Farms, Royal Oaks Farms, Watsonville Coast Produce, Second Harvest Food Bank, Whole Foods Market and Lakeside Organic Gardens donated food.
Volunteers from Driscoll Associates helped Santa Claus in wrapping, labeling and distributing toys. Driscoll’s also handed out at-home Covid-19 testing kits to each family member.
A deejay was on hand at the event playing Christmas music as others dressed up as holiday-themed Disney characters to welcome families as they passed through.
Students and alumni from Palma High School in Salinas, as well as teachers and parents lent a hand in packing up and handing off bags of food. The school has made it a tradition to help out Sister Rosa with the event.
“The first time I helped out was over 20 years ago,” said Willie Beesley, a teacher at Palma. “It’s great. The kids really want to give back. This is a great way to let them do just that.”
Beesley said he is impressed with how the event has continued even through Covid.
“For a while we weren’t quite sure how things would go,” he said. “But they did an amazing job last year, figuring things out … We’re so happy to be back.”
Knights of Columbus groups from Aptos (9580) and Watsonville (11804) were present to give out hundreds of new, warm coats and jackets through their Coats of Kids program. The program raised money for 600 coats total; some will also be sent to Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services and the All About Kids program in Orville.
Knights of Columbus officer Larry Young said that this is the sixth year they have teamed up with Casa de la Cultura.
“We have so many generous people in our churches who have made donations,” Young said. “Every year it gets better. We love Sister Rosa and the generosity of all the groups here. It’s just a great way to give back to the community.”
Sister Rosa also thanked the nonprofit’s musical group, Estudiantina, as well as Thorne Communications and Chuck Allen for their support of the event.
“Look at all of this,” she said. “Could we do it by ourselves? Never. It takes so many dedicated people to pull this off. We are so grateful.”