When Carlos “Charlie” Salaz was a young boy growing up in South Tucson, he and his brothers would run to the trucks that would deliver packages of fruits, nuts and candy to children at Christmas time.

The gifts from the social service organizations brought smiles to the neighborhood kids, recalled his brother, Armando Salaz. It was an act of kindness that his brother, Charlie, never forgot. It was an act that changed him.

On Sunday, March 19, acts of kindness done by Charlie Salaz, a copper miner at San Manuel for nearly 30 years and a union leader, were celebrated.

Salaz, 73, died Feb. 28 of heart failure due to complications from diabetes, said his daughter, Mariana Salaz Adams. “He fought until the very end,” said Adams. “For him, every day was worth living. He never wavered from being the best that he could be.”

Even though the disease weakened his body, “it never dampened his spirit or his faith,” said Adams of her father who had his left leg amputated in 2003, and was on dialysis for nearly 10 years. Last year, he fell and needed 24-hour care, which required him to live in a nursing facility, Adams said.

For more than two decades, Salaz worked to bring joy to children in need. He volunteered helping Ramon Gonzales with his “Miracle on 31st Street” — a Christmas party for children that was held outside Gonzales’ South Tucson home for 30 years. It later moved to Marana, the Tucson Rodeo Grounds, and now the event that attracts thousands of children and their families is held at Casino del Sol’s AVA Amphitheater.

Salaz helped raise funds for the holiday party, donated toys and foods and managed the event’s finances.

He also volunteered at Casa Maria Soup Kitchen, 352 E. 25th St., for some 20 years, said Brian Flagg, a social justice activist who operates the kitchen to feed homeless and needy families.

“Charlie was a great South Tucson home boy. He played football for Pueblo High back in the day, and he was always working to serve the community. His passing is a big loss,” Flagg said.

Dan Eckstrom, former South Tucson mayor and Pima County supervisor, described Salaz as a “real dedicated public servant.”

“He was always very interested in helping the less fortunate. I’d see him on the sidewalk in his wheelchair talking to someone about a complaint or problem,” recalled Eckstrom who helped Salaz campaign for election to the square-mile city’s council. Salaz served from June 2009 to June 2013, and was active in Democratic Party campaigns for 30 years.

Armando Salaz, along with his brothers, talked about Charlie’s love for the United Steel Workers of America Local 937. At the mine, he worked underground as a hoistman and also labored in the smelter separating impurities from the copper ore. He received numerous safety awards, including medals, belt buckles and a copper plate.

When not underground, he devoted his time to countless meetings representing miners in safety, health and education issues. He served as the union’s recording secretary, on the legislation and education committee and was a member of the grievance committee. He remained an active member of the Steel Workers Organized Active Retirees. He was laid off from the mine in San Manuel in 2000, and decided to retire because of his health.

Salaz was born Sept. 15, 1943, and graduated from Pueblo High in 1963. He joined the Navy in 1966 and was a cook on the USS Herbert J. Thomas, which conducted shore bombing missions during the Vietnam War. Salaz received the Vietnam Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.

“He was very proud to cook for his mates because he said food is what nourished the men and kept them going,” recalled Adams. She said her dad taught her how to make delicious soups and casseroles using leftovers, meals his grandchildren enjoyed.

Salaz received an honorable discharge in 1968, and returned to Tucson and married Emilia G. Gomez. The couple had three children, and later divorced.

He is survived by two children, six grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, six brothers and two sisters.

Memorial donations can be made in his honor and mailed to Casa Maria Catholic Worker Community, 401 E. 26th St., Tucson, Arizona 85713 or to Miracle on 31st Street, 2019 W. Ajo Way, Tucson, Arizona 85713.

Salaz will receive a service with full military honors April 15 beginning at 8 a.m. at Adair Funeral Home Avalon Chapel, 8090 N. Northern Ave. Interment will follow at 11 a.m. at Arizona Veterans Memorial Cemetery, 15950 N. Luckett Road, in Marana.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at cduarte@tucson.com or 573-4104. On Twitter: @cduartestar