A cheer team from Holy Cross Church and School in Santa Cruz joins The Grinch at the annual Christmas giveaway at Casa de la Cultura in Pajaro Monday. —Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

PAJARO—Scores of volunteers were on hand Monday morning at Marinovich Cold Storage in Pajaro, preparing to hand out gifts to hundreds of local families at Casa de la Cultura’s annual Christmas giveaway.

The Casa de la Cultura organization aims to support low-income residents, especially farmworkers, with food, clothing and other necessities. Executive Director Sister Rosa Dolores Rodriguez has been organizing the Christmas giveaway since 1991, with help from long-standing volunteer Sister Teresa, and volunteers from Driscoll’s, Palma High School, local Knights of Columbus (KOC) chapters, and many more.

Sister Rosa highlighted the businesses who donated food, including Lakeside Organic Gardens, Second Harvest Food Bank, Sunridge Farms, La Rosa Bakery, Cilantro’s and more.

“I am so grateful for everyone–for the schools, the Knights, for Driscoll’s,” Sister Rosa said. “We are also so grateful to the Marinovich family who have allowed us to continue doing the drive thru event. We are very blessed.”

Lisa Peterson, a volunteer with Driscoll’s, said she has been helping out with the giveaway for many years.

“This is the result of a lot of hard work,” Peterson said. “A lot of effort by dedicated people goes into this day.”

KOC officers from Santa Cruz, Aptos and the Pajaro Valley were present Monday to hand out hundreds of new jackets to the families. For the past seven years, KOC Council #9580 in Aptos has raised money for the jackets through its Coats for Kids campaign.

Members of the Knights of Columbus from Santa Cruz, Aptos and Watsonville show a sampling of the jackets they brought to the Christmas giveaway. —Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

Officer Larry Young said it has been a challenging year for the campaign due to supply chain issues.

“We were unable to get some of the sizes, there is such high demand,” he said. “We had to make some adjustments. But we got there. It’s all about the joy of seeing kids put on new jackets. Last year … we had a kid who wanted to keep the tags on their jacket, saying, ‘I’ve never had a new coat before!’”

Since 2020, the giveaway has been held as a drive-thru, with cars entering at Casa de la Cultura’s headquarters on Salinas Road and driving through the Marinovich property, picking up bags of gifts, food, and the jackets as they go. 

As families began to line up Monday morning, volunteers donned costumes and festive gear to welcome families. A group of students from Holy Cross Church and School in Santa Cruz got ready to perform a holiday dance, and Santa Claus arrived to spread holiday cheer.

“We heard one kid this year say, ‘It’s like magic!’” Sister Rosa said. “And it was. It was a special, beautiful moment in time.”

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.



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