By Tony Aguilar and Brenda R. Rincon
THERMAL, Calif. – Ubaldo Alvarado stands in the harsh wind, his five-year-old daughter Evely in one hand and an empty box in the other.
Alvarado, who is not wearing a jacket on this unseasonably cold 50-degree afternoon, has been waiting for nearly two hours but will soon be rewarded for his patience. Before long, volunteers in Santa Claus hats will fill his box with tortillas, fruit, vegetables, cereal, canned goods, diet soda, and his choice of a ham, turkey, or chicken.
“This is all very good,” says the 37-year-old farm worker in Spanish. “Anything I can bring home will be very good.”
Galilee Center, a Coachella-based non-profit, distributes food and clothing to approximately 300 families each week outside a rural church community center in Thermal. The parking lot is overflowing, and cars are parked in the date groves lining Harrison Street.
Claudia Castorena, one of the organization’s founders, says the numbers increase greatly during the holiday season.
“This year, there are many new families who have never been in this position,” she says. “At Thanksgiving and Christmas, we have up to 500 families here, and each of those families usually has two adults and four children.”
Francisca Vargas, a 28-year-old homemaker with three young children, is at the food distribution center for the first time. She waits in line with her three-month-old daughter, warmly covered in blankets inside a baby stroller.
Her husband, a construction worker, “has work some days and other days he doesn’t and that has made it harder than usual this year.”
Family members told Vargas about this service provided by Galilee Center. She plans on serving the free turkey she will soon receive for Christmas dinner.
In addition to Evely, who is here with her father, the Alvarado family has three additional children at home at a nearby trailer park. Although his wife, Eulobia, recently found work picking grapes, it is difficult for the family to make ends meet – especially at Christmas time.
“There just isn’t work sometimes,” says Alvarardo. He says he will provide for his family this Christmas “con esfuerzo, like I am doing here, be it in the morning when it’s cold or when it’s hot.”
While Alvarado stands in line, organization officials announce there will be a special toy distribution on Christmas Day. All children attending will receive a gift, thanks in part to contributions from a local casino and the California Highway Patrol.
“My wife and I don’t need any gifts,” he says, in Spanish. “Our children come first. We will all be here on Sunday.”
He looks down at Evely, and asks her how many days are left until Santa Claus arrives.
“Only two more days,” she says, excitedly. “I want a bike.”