NACO, Ariz. — For some families in Naco, Sonora, spending Christmas Eve in 30-degree weather waiting in line outside by the port of entry was worth it if it meant their children would have presents this year.
The Bisbee Rotary Club has organized the Christmas at Naco event for more than a decade. It gathers donations throughout the year to make sure some of the neediest families across the border have a merry Christmas.
María del Rosario Ceballos, 55, walked from the outskirts of the small town southeast of Tucson at about 10 p.m. Tuesday to make sure she was among the first ones to be called.
To fight the cold, she wrapped her feet in white plastic bags and drank hot chocolate from a cart that parked nearby to help the families get through the night.
Ceballos has custody of five grandchildren and was looking for clothes and toys for them.
“There’s a lot of need here in Naco,” she said Wednesday before the gate opened at 8 a.m.
The tables with toys, piles of clothes and bags of groceries are placed between the two security border fences next to the port of entry. The Rotary Club and the municipal government of Naco, Sonora, work with Customs and Border Protection to allow groups of five and 10 to enter the dirt road used to patrol the border.
The municipal government of Naco distributes tickets ahead of time to families in need and gives them large plastic bags to take the gifts.
As each group walked through the metal gate, they were greeted by Shirley Doughty dressed as Mrs. Claus. They got 10 to 15 minutes to go through the toys — which are the first to go — and the piles of clothes and grab a bag of oranges donated by Copper Queen Hospital. Onions and small bags with oil, beans and rice also were available.
And behind every person who waited in line for most of the night before Christmas there’s a story of why he or she was there.
María de los Angeles Morin also walked from her home to the border fence with her children.
Yamara Moreno, 13, said their house burned a couple of weeks ago. The family is now living in another property but lacks electricity and running water. Members help their family by selling candy on the street.
Yamara was looking for a Justin Bieber T-shirt — her favorite musical artist. She wasn’t able to find it, but she was happy to get a bracelet-making kit, a Justin Bieber notepad, a plastic toy pony and Play-Doh for her little sister.
Her brother, Luis Angel Ramirez, 16, wanted a soccer ball. His school team is among the top in the city and he’s one of its best players, they said, but they don’t have uniforms to play in or a ball to practice with outside of school.
But by the time they went in, the soccer balls were gone.
The local government also hosts a Christmas party with piñatas, pizza and toys for the town’s children.
Jesús Gallardo, mayor at Naco, Sonora, said there’s a big need in the community. Even though a mine in Cananea and several factories are providing jobs to the community, the town needs a lot more sources of employment.
“The food helps these families a lot. It helps them stretch their paycheck,” he said.
Joan Hanson was one of about 40 volunteers who spent their Christmas morning arranging the goods and wishing people a feliz Navidad.
“It’s a wonderful way to start Christmas,” she said as the crowd wound down. “It’s what Christmas is all about.”
The Rotary Club member is already thinking about ways to raise more funds next year, she said.
The cap this year was 250 tickets, and it wasn’t because there’s a lack of need, she said.