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Last-minute Santa visits Avon family

Melanie Wong
mwong@vaildaily.com
Avon, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyLeonor Hernandez, right, feeds a spoon full of a sweet dessert ingredient to her son Eleazar, 5, while her other son Exael, 2, eats a banana Wednesday at their apartment in Avon, Colorado.
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AVON, Colorado ” Until Christmas Eve, the holidays were looking bleak for Leonor Hernandez and her family in Avon, Colorado.

The 20-year-old single mother of two wasn’t expecting to be able to afford a Christmas tree or decorations, much less presents, until the family was adopted through the Salvation Army’s Adopt-A-Family program.

It has been a tough year for Hernandez, who lives in a cramped room in an Avon apartment with her stepfather, five-year-old Eleazar and two-year-old Exael.



She was in a car accident in July that killed her friend, and because she is an undocumented immigrant, she spent five months in jail as her immigration case went through court.

Hernandez won her case, making her eligible for a green card, and she was able to return home to her children to try and pick up the pieces of her life.



Past Christmases have been sparse, too, she said, remembering the year her boyfriend left the family, or when her youngest son was hospitalized for seizures.

But this year, she was not able to work until she had legal papers, and her stepfather Israel Chaparro, a painter, was injured on the job and also unable to work.

She looks around her small living room sheepishly.



“We don’t have a tree or decorations or nothing,” she said. “I was sad because this month is hard for us. My son said, ‘Santa Claus isn’t going to come because we don’t even have a tree.’ I told him he was going to come, that he would leave the presents at the door.”

And while the boys wish for Batman toys and video games, Hernandez said what the family’s biggest wishes are for clothes and shoes. Eleazar doesn’t have sufficient winter clothes for school, and Exael only has one pair of shoes, she said.

Hernandez had heard about the Adopt-A-Family program, where sponsors choose a family to provide with gifts, and applied. However, as Christmas neared, her application got lost in the shuffle, and there were no more sponsors left for the family.

At the same time, an Edwards woman, who asked that her real name not be used, received a book called “The Ultimate Gift,” some money, and a challenge from her employer.

The idea was for all the employees to read the book and spend the money to help someone in need.

“I thought about it over the weekend, and hoped that something would just feel right. I wanted to see a family helped and see what this could do for them,” the woman said.

When she contacted Salvation Army, she was initially told that no more families were available. Later, the Hernandez’s name came up, and she gladly accepted.

The family’s wish list included basic items such as clothes and shoes, the woman said, but the gift delivery also included toys, so that “the kids would have something to open on Christmas morning.”

“It’s tough this year for everyone, it seems there have been even more people who are having a tough time,” she said. “I wish I could give them a good life, and in this way I can at least give them a good Christmas.”

Though this has been the toughest time Hernandez has faced, she said she is hopeful for the future. She hopes to learn English at Colorado Mountain College, and she wants to learn how to use a computer.

“I have a wish, too,” she said with a shy smile. “To do better this year. God has given me a chance to stay here with a social security number. When I can work, I’m going to do better, and next Christmas will be much better.”

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.


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