AVON – For most of her life, Monica Ruiz didn’t think much about how to help others. Then, her father was kidnapped and murdered. Now Ruiz and her three children can’t wait to help a family in need this holiday season. They know how it feels to be down and out.Ruiz and her family are from El Paso, Texas, where they lived until late last year. They moved from El Paso after Ruiz’ father was kidnapped and murdered in Mexico. Raising the ransom took everything the family had, and then some.”We were asking friends and relatives for $50 and $100 just to raise it,” she said. “We practically sold everything we had to pay the ransom. And they killed him anyway.”Financially and emotionally devastated, Ruiz left El Paso with less than $100 in her pocket, enough for bus fare to the Vail Valley and a few meals.”I was trying to find some peace,” she said. “I came here in 1998 and liked it. I knew I could get a job, so maybe I could get back on my feet.
Ruiz’s hard times continued after leaving El Paso. She got a job soon enough, but money was still tight. Then, with her own mother no longer able to care for Ruiz’s three kids or Ruiz’s 10-year-old sister, the youngsters all came to the valley.”It was November, and we didn’t have any money,” Ruiz said. “Someone told me about Tsu Wolin Brown at the Salvation Army. I waited two weeks to call, because I thought ‘she won’t help.'”But she made a call, and when Wolin-Brown asked, “What’s wrong?” Ruiz broke down.The family was short on food, and the kids, fresh from Texas, didn’t have proper clothing for a mountain winter. The Ruizes got food and clothing from the Salvation Army’s emergency supplies. Then Wolin-Brown asked if Ruiz needed toys for the kids.”I just wanted snow pants for them so they could play outside,” she said.What Ruiz didn’t know was that in addition to food and clothing, Wolin-Brown had also put Ruiz’s family and their needs into the Salvation Army’s Adopt a Family pool.That program matches donors and families in need. Families are either referred by a church or other charity, or are screened in personal interviews. Donors then buy food and gifts for the families, and deliver it all just before Christmas.And last Christmas was looking bleak for Ruiz and her kids.
It was Dec. 23 last year, and Ruiz was sure Christmas wasn’t coming. With only a few dollars in hand at the end of the year, there was barely money for bus fare and a little food. Gifts were out of the question.”I didn’t know what to tell the kids,” Ruiz said. “But they knew what was going on.”Then, on Christmas Eve, Jeannie and her daughters – donors generally are anonymous, or go by their first names – showed up, with box after box of food, clothing – and toys for the kids.The sudden switch from a barren Christmas to one of plenty was the start of a much better year for Ruiz and her family. It also transformed the way the entire family looks at the world.”We’re all thankful of life now,” Ruiz said. “My kids and my sister had the sense there were no nice people in the world. Then Jeannie and her two girls came. There are no more negative comments from them.”The kids still have all the toys and clothes from last Christmas. None of the toys are broken, and all of the things they received for Christmas are kept separate from their other possessions. Those will always be special.
Ruiz now works in the leasing office at the Buffalo Ridge Apartments in Avon. She likes the job and the people she works with. And, nearly a year removed from last Christmas, she and her kids want to help another family.”This isn’t paying back,” she said. “What Jeannie did isn’t payable. But if I could help someone who needs help, it would be good.”The desire to help others has also been firmly planted in the kids.”When we’re in Wal-Mart the kids always ask if they can buy something for their ‘new brothers and sisters,'” Ruiz said. “We’ll never forget this.”While Ruiz’s fortunes have changed, Wolin-Brown said it’s rare for a family that received an Adopt a Family package one year to donate to the program the next.”It’s more common for people to come back and volunteer to put together food baskets,” Wolin-Brown said. “But people do want to make a difference. Most do want to pay back and don’t have the ability.”Giving is new to Ruiz and her family. But now that they’ve seen the other side of need, they’re ready to help.”Before, we didn’t help anybody because we never needed help,” Ruiz said. “But if no one would have helped me last year, we’d have had nothing.”==============How to helpTo learn more about the local Salvation Army’s Adopt a Family and food basket programs, call 926-3704.==================Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or email@example.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado CO