Twenty-four years ago, a vendor in Nuevo Progreso by the name of Nina Pulido wanted to do something for the poor children of her town. Together with a few Winter Texans from one park they put on a party Christmas morning, attracting around 200 children.
Beginnings, it seems, always start with a thought, then talking about that thought and then taking action. This simple thought has turned into a magnificent Christmas blessing for about 2,750 children plus their parents.
The word spreads simply – by word-of-mouth through the parks and newspaper articles. The event has continued to grow and expand over the years.
“It takes about 30 committees to pull this event off,” Ed Barrett, in his 12th year of volunteering and publicity chairman for Amigos de los Niños, said. “These include a variety such as buying and bagging a ton and a half of peanuts, down to collecting toys, dolls, school supplies, food, hot dogs, soda pop, candy bars and teddy bears.”
The event takes a year of planning. Winter Texans – American and Canadian – hit garage sales all over their countries to collect the toys and dolls for the events, cleaning up their finds to make them ready for the big day. With the final cost over $13,000, the funds are raised in money and in-kind donations. For example, one local grove supplies 3,000 oranges.
“Another place will supply candy, but when you’re talking 3,000 of everything – that’s a lot of items!” Barrett said.
New volunteers are constantly being added and they add new depth to the story.
“When Winter Texans are in Nuevo Progreso, the Mexicans take care of us. They have a couple of Winter Texan parties for us folks from over here. When there’s a problem over there, they take care of us,” John Varner, Sleepy Valley Resort, said. “This is kind of a little bit of us giving back to them.”
The kids with their parents begin lining up in the wee hours of the mornings. The line snakes around Ford School #45 and down the street.
“We were there last year and it was cold and had rained the night before. The little kids were standing in line with little rubber thongs and mud up to their ankles,” Therese Varner’s eyes were somber remembering the scene. “We feel we want to give something back because we enjoy going over there.”
In their second year, John is chair of the piñata committee. Amazed at the manpower to accomplish this vast party, he recognizes how so many of the Nuevo Progreso vendors contribute.
“In Mexico we ordered 10 pinatas and they gave us 15,” John said. “There’s a restaurant owner, a doctor and store owners who participate.”
“A few days before Christmas, a caravan of about 30 pickup trucks and vans goes over and sets everything up for Christmas Day. We clean up the school yard – it’s kind of messy – and bag all the peanuts in one pound bags, bag the candy, organize the rice, beans and pasta for the food bags and get things sorted out,” Barrett explained. “On Christmas morning at about 6:30 a.m. we go over, get opened up and get things going.”
Starting at 9 o’clock with a parade from the bridge to the school, Winter Texans are costumed from Mickey Mouse to Santa Claus. The event begins its morning of revelry. Children wait patiently in line until, one by one, they get their toy, candy, food, a whack at the piñata, hot dog and perhaps a sense that somebody really does care for them in this world.
From the beginning, hot dogs were added to the event. After the first time, hot dog buns were scattered all over the grounds. It seems the kids didn’t know what to do with the buns. Now wrapped in tortillas, there’s been no waste.
“It’s an awesome experience,” said John, smiling.
“It’s amazing how you feel inside,” Therese’s face lighting up. “We talked to people as we went to yard sales and would tell them our story about the little kids in Mexico. It’s like being missionaries but we’re not. But, it still seems like a mission to do this.”
Having seen it first hand, it’s a sure thing that all 300 volunteer Winter Texans find their hearts much more full with love after their trip to Nuevo Progreso for the Amigos de los Niños on Christmas morn.
For more information, call Ed Barrett at 360-907-1354.