SULLIVAN CITY — After a prolonged custody battle to better his children’s living conditions, Jorge Serna is now facing another fight. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused his children to miss out on about four weeks of school after his youngest son tested positive.

But before that, the children were living in conditions without water or electricity with their mother while Jorge, a 38-year-old father of five children between 6 and 12 years old, had to visit his kids in secret.

In May of this year, Child Protective Services left the children in the care of their father due to their mother’s inability to care for them during that time, according to Jorge, who said that a month later, the children returned home to their mother.

And she again prevented Jorge from seeing his kids, Jorge said.

But months later, in October, her water and electricity were disconnected due to financial problems and Jorge was again able to gain custody of four of his children — this time for good, he hopes.

After Jorge’s children returned to his home, he decided that he didn’t want to return them back to their mother because he believed she was not able to provide for them. He gained custody of four out of the five kids, the oldest remaining in the custody of the mother.

However, the oldest remained in her mother’s custody until three weeks ago, which is when he called police to help him retrieve his eldest daughter. Upon arrival, police ended up arresting the woman after finding her house lacking water, electricity and food, he said.

The family is now living in a small house with two bedrooms, a living room, and a kitchen. They moved there two weeks ago with the help of Jorge’s boss, Ricardo Cantu.

Bonifacia Bazaldua, 76, keeps watch on her grandchildren as they help with chores and tidying up the bedroom on Tuesday in Sullivan City. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

When Jorge first gained custody of his children, he was working full time at the taqueria where he has worked for the past 12 years.

“In the mornings I would take a break from work to bring my kids tacos for breakfast then head back to work. An hour later, I would take another break to check up on them again. I was going back and forth all day,” said Serna

In order to minimize his drive time from work, Jorge decided to work a part-time morning shift to be home for the majority of the day.

However, since he is the sole breadwinner for the family, their financial situation varies day to day, but one thing is certain, all of his earnings go toward creating a better life for his children.

“It is difficult but I have been doing everything possible … all those who know me know that my kids are always my priority,” Jorge said, explaining that schools his children attend have helped the family a couple of times. “Whenever I can not provide something for them I ask for help from friends and my community. The kids’ school hands out meals in the afternoons for the families of the students. If I really don’t have anything to give them I will go get them a plate from the school.”

Bonifacia Bazaldua, 76, and her grandchildren at her son’s home on Tuesday in Sullivan City. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

While gaining custody of his children was a success, the father of five is facing a new hardship now when about four weeks ago his youngest son tested positive for COVID-19.

The diagnosis resulted in a two-week quarantine at home for all of his children.

This week they were tested again and each child tested negative.

Now, he is waiting for permission from the school for his children to return. His main concern is that the children do not miss any more of their classes.

With the children staying at home all day, Jorge’s mother Bonifacia Anzaldua, who is from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, decided to come and help her son take care of the children while he is at work.

But even this was previously an impossibility because COVID-19 had shut the bridges for non-essential travel.

This holiday season, Jorge asked that the community help in any way they can. With help from the community, he plans to use the funds to provide a better living environment for his kids by buying them items such as winter clothes and blankets.

Donations for this family, and others, can be made by contributing to the Spirit of Christmas campaign through the United Way of South Texas. They can be reached at (956) 686 -6331 between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. Due to COVID- 19, only monetary donations are being accepted for families in need.