La Casa De La Hope employee Sheretta Jimenez begins wrapping th hundreds of presents donated by area residents for the third annual Toys for Hope Charity Drive. (Sun Photo by Angela Peacock)
Freezing in a rundown trailer with no electricity or running water praying the babies father wouldn’t come home and beat her again is how Janey Smith spent Christmas day in 2002.
“I left Oregon in a truck with no license, insurance or tags and had trouble making it run the whole way, but God wanted us to get there,” Smith said. “This is the first Christmas my boys have ever had, which is really special because there were Christmases in the past where I didn’t think we’d live to see another Christmas, and times when I didn’t want to live to see another Christmas.”
Since Smith’s arrival in June, she has worked at La Casa De La Hope, which she credits for improving her life for several reasons. Through assistance from La Casa De La Hope, Smith can properly clothe her children and has been able to furnish her apartment with all the necessities she once thought of as luxuries.
Smith’s good friend Sherreta Jimenez, a three year La Casa De La Hope employee and volunteer, has watched Smith’s and her children’s lives dramatically improve from the first couple of months after their arrival in Tucumcari.
She said stories such as Smith’s make her work at La Casa De La Hope worthwhile.
“When she first got here, she was a nervous wreck, and all the boys would drink is milk because that’s all they used to be able to afford. The oldest boy was terrified of men, but we’ve broke them out of that, and now we can’t get those boys to stop eating,” Jimenez said. “The Christmas toys we give out here range from $2 to $15. To see a child smile because of a $2 toy is satisfaction beyond belief. It makes my 20 hour a week pay look like a million bucks.”
Working at La Casa De La Hope has a special significance to Jimenez. The year she and her daughter moved to Tucumcari they barely had enough money to survive.
Jimenez thought her daughter was going to have a truly non-merry Christmas but was astonished when a local resident anonymously gave her daughter's name to a toy charity drive similar to La Casa De La Hope’s “Toys for Hope.”
“I don’t work at La Casa De La Hope for the money or any other reason but for myself, because when I was in need the people in this community helped me make it through. So now, I want to return the favor,” Jimenez said.
La Casa De La Hope Director Bill Bowman talked about the various underprivileged families the shelter has helped in past holiday seasons. He and Jimenez were almost teary-eyed as they recalled a child who wanted nothing for Christmas but a toothbrush. Another middle-school aged boy who wanted a pair of shoes.
“Delivering toys, we’ve seen houses I wouldn’t let my dog live in, but that’s all the people could afford. I’ve seen women come in here needing feminine products. Instances like these really make you take a step back and realize a new definition of needy. These people are simply wanting items they need to survive,” Jimenez said. “It’s truly amazing for a community this size how many needy people there are.”
In 2002, La Casa De La Hope gave out over 300 toys during Christmas. With donations still arriving, Bowman has no idea how many toys La Casa De La Hope has received this year. He assures the community there’s no such thing as too many toys.
“We once had a man stop in here who hadn’t got to see his daughter in a very long time. It was her birthday and his present to her was going to be him showing up,” Jimenez said. “With some of the toys we hadn’t used at Christmas, we were able to give that man a birthday present for his daughter. He was forever grateful.”