PAJARO — Hundreds of families gathered at the Casa de la Cultura center in Pajaro Thursday morning, their children eagerly waiting to meet and receive gifts from Santa Claus.
Sister Rosa Delores has been organizing the Casa de la Cultura Food and Gift Christmas Giveaway since the early 1990s. The event continues to grow — Thursday morning saw the line of people stretch the length of the building and beyond. Families had from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to pick up gifts as well as boxes of donated food.
“It’s always such a joy,” said Sister Teresa, who worked alongside Sister Delores and a slew of other volunteers to put on the giveaway. “This is how we share the spirit of Christmas. It makes the children so happy.”
Students from Palma High School in Salinas worked diligently in organizing and handing out boxes of food — filled with everything from canned beans to fresh bananas and other produce donated by Whole Foods Market. Gift donations were made by a number of private — some of them anonymous — donors. The students assisted families in transporting the items into carts and to their vehicles.
In an annual tradition, the Resurrection Church Knights of Columbus donated coats to each family through their Coats for Kids program. The group broke their fundraising record for the third year in a row; 552 jackets were handed out to children at the giveaway this time around.
“For many of these children, these will be the only Christmas gifts they receive,” said Patrick McMenamy, who was on hand with his fellow Knights of Columbus members to disperse and help fit kids into the right size of coat. “Just a small gesture like this can give them happiness and a bit of self-esteem.”
As people lined up for an encounter with Santa Claus on Thursday, volunteers led the crowd in a number of Christmas carols, and two piñatas were rigged up for kids to try their hand at freeing the candy within.
Eventually, Santa made his way inside the Casa de la Cultura center, and children began filing into the building to meet him and get their very own present.
“Every year we wonder if we’ll be able to do this again,” Sister Teresa said. “But we always do. We’re really grateful to everyone who has helped make it happen.”
In addition to the 552 jackets donated on Thursday, The Resurrection Church Knights of Columbus’ Coats for Kids will send 550 more jackets to the All About Children program in Oroville, families affected by last year’s Napa and Sonoma County fires as well as Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services. Another donation of 400 coats will be going to families from Paradise, who were displaced due to the Camp Fire.