McALLEN — Though the evening was gloomy with gray, cloudy skies and a cold, mist-like drizzle sprinkling atop surfaces, a beacon of hope still shined in the form of generosity for local families in need this holiday season with the help of McAllen native and actress Ariana Guerra, and her friends and family as well.
Guerra, with the help of her friend, 28-year-old James Kittleman, and 36-year-old Silvia Ruiz, who works for IDEA Tres Lagos, organized a donation drive titled the Christmas Acts of Kindness to help several IDEA families and others featured in The Monitor’s and United Way of South Texas Spirit of Christmas campaign.
The event was held at the University Draft House in McAllen.
“Everytime I come home to the Valley I feel like a responsibility to give my time or volunteer whenever I can, so I actually connected with Silvia and James just two weeks ago to set all of this up,” Guerra said.
The team opened a GoFundMe page on Dec. 9 which has been consistently seeing donations trickle in and has a current goal of $10,000.
Ruiz helped Guerra and Kittleman connect with families in need because as a bus driver she knows many of the kids that attend IDEA, and learns about the families and their stories.
“There’s some families that I know that are in need,” Ruiz said. “So, there’s this one family that we’re adopting and me and my husband decided to help them out and then some firefighters wanted to help out and join in.
“That’s how Ariana found out about the event.”
Guerra’s father is a firefighter who works with Ruiz’s husband which is how she discovered the means to help and, due to her wish of volunteering and helping her community, Guerra sought the help of Ruiz.
When Ruiz says adopting, she means she and her husband will be donating to a particular family in need through an in-school event called “Adopt a Student,” where teachers buy a gift for a student, but when she found out about the Fernandez family who are facing eviction from their Edinburg residence, she and her husband decided to help them any way they could.
“We bought them tablets, earbuds … the little boy, because he’s in kindergarten, we bought him a huge fire truck and a few toys,” Ruiz said. “We’ve bought them shoes … and we’re also going to buy them like a meal, so they could have for Christmas.”
Several people came out to the venue to donate, such as Ruiz’s sister and her kids, Guerra’s former psychology teacher from high school, 54-year old Marissa Sarabando who’s now retired, and a fan of Guerra’s who wanted to meet her in person.
Sarabando said that Guerra reached out to her because as a former educator she can empathize with the less fortunate students and she and her husband are always looking for ways to do something for the community over the holidays.
Rod Santa Ana, formerly of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Weslaco, and who declined to give his age but admitted to being over 21, said he read about Guerra’s event in The Monitor and decided to meet Guerra in person because she inspired him.
“God bless her for not forgetting her roots,” Santa Ana said. “She’s from here… We all need to help poor people here in the Valley.
“Poverty is like wealth, it’s handed down from generation to generation and for too long, Hisapnics have had the odds stacked against them, so we’re playing catch up as fast as we can but sometimes [it] takes those that have succeeded in life to help those who are still struggling, and that’s why I’m so proud of Ariana and I came to give her a donation and my cookbook.”
As of presstime, the Christmas Acts of Kindness donation drive’s GoFundMe page had up to $7,235 in donations.
One can help contribute by visiting the website at https://gofund.me/23a7d77a.
Click here to find all the stories of the families featured in The Monitor’s and United Way of South Texas Spirit of Christmas campaign.