DOWNEY - Twelve years ago, current councilman Mario Guerra and his wife, Ann, came up with the idea of plugging a gap in the lives of children whose parents are incarcerated during the holidays.At a "big" annual Christmas party held at St. Raymond's, the kids are given toys, clothing specific to the individual kid, and two or three unwrapped presents. The gifts, donated anonymously, are said to be the only presents the kids ever receive at Christmas. To enrich the experience and achieve some sort of personal connection with a child, the parishioners would adopt him or her and otherwise make every effort to gladden their hearts. With Ann Guerra as coordinator and Mario acting as 'cheerleader', and assisted by 30 permanent team leaders composed mostly of Downey High and Warren High students as well as parishioners, the special project known as Angel Tree Downey hosted some 300 kids last year, including some 50 kids sent over by the TLC Family Resource Center. Members of the Downey Express baseball team also help, as well as volunteers from different organizations. This year they are expecting more children. Among other party highlights, a choir sings carols while a photo-op with Santa allows parents in prison to see pictures of their kids (they send letters of thanks to Angel Tree, of course). "The whole purpose," said Mario, "is to let the children know that they are loved by someone. We'd rather err on the side of giving too much. We want them to leave the party with a smile." Actually, a bigger purpose, he said, is to stop the cycle of hurt caused by the "sins" of the parents. The inspiration for the project, he added, came from the Christian Detention Ministry started by Charles Colson. Twelve years of ministering to the kids with Christmas surprises, says Mario, have made him realize more fully what a generous community Downey is. In tribute to the good Angel Tree Downey does, Ann issued this Christmas message: "Angel Tree has been a labor of love for so many in our community. We are blessed to live in a city where so many reach out to others who otherwise would be forgotten. From our great Angel Tree committee to our parishioners, to all our volunteers and community groups that help with toys and clothes for these children, we thank them all with all our heart. We truly are Christmas Angels to these families and little ones. We know we are making a difference, however small it may be, and it is done with great love."
********** Published: December 23, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 36