A Christmas tree angel will bless the Lopez family during the holidays.
The Lopez family is among 300 migrant families in Alachua County, and 12 other surrounding counties looking forward to seeing their children’s faces light up with joy on Christmas Day at the sight of little angel notes hanging from St. Augustine Catholic Church’s Christmas tree.
“I am so happy and thankful that there are people that want to help and make it possible for me every year to give my four kids a happy Christmas,” said Cristina Lopez.
Every year, the St. Augustine Catholic Church, the American Heritage Girls troop and the Alachua Multi-County Migrant Education program, a part of the Alachua County school board, come together to sponsor the Angel Tree charity project.
The Angel Tree is set up during Thanksgiving and stands tall until Christmas Day.
Kelly Quintana, American Heritage Girls troop leader and volunteer at the church, said each angel has a note on it describing the needs of a migrant family during the holiday season.
“Our church is extremely generous,” Quintana said. “Yesterday I went and picked up another car load of wonderful gifts for the migrant families, and these are heaters, work boots for the men, work shirts, and toys for the kids, diapers, and formula.”
Quintana said the Alachua County Multi-County Migrant Education program works with these families one-on-one throughout the year, and knows the best way to distribute the donated gifts collected by the church.
For at least 15 years the Angel Tree charity project has sponsored low-income, temporary or seasonal agriculture families. A lot of them cannot afford to buy a Christmas tree, let alone gifts for their children.
“This year, I didn’t have the money to buy a Christmas tree for my kids,” Lopez said. “It was very hard for me to explain to them why. They’re too young to understand my economic problems, but thanks to charities like these I can tell them Santa is coming.”
Natalie Norris, a supervisor for the Alachua County Multi-County Migrant Education program, said these migrant families have to meet certain requirements in order to be eligible for the charity program.
“They have to have made a move across county state lines in order to seek or obtain work in agriculture, and their children would have had to move with them,” Norris said.
Norris also said that because the migrant families are a highly mobile population, their education and lifestyle is often interrupted three to four times during the school year due to temporary and/or seasonal crops.
The church is collecting Christmas gifts until Sunday, Dec. 21. In addition, they collect donations throughout the year, such as household items as well as supermarket gift cards for migrant families.
Mrs. Lopez said the holidays are always a difficult time for her and her family, but every year she is thankful that they are blessed by an angel.
“It’s nice to know that there are a lot of nice people in this world, who are willing to help people like me, going through hard times.”