Vail Valley Salvation Army works to help Eagle County families this Christmas |

Vail Valley Salvation Army works to help Eagle County families this Christmas

Melanie Wong
Donna Caynoski and Nori Siemers, of Slifer Smith and Frampton, stand outside of the City Market in Avon on Tuesday ringing bells and raising money for the Salvation Army.
Charles Townsend Bessent | |

EAGLE COUNTY — It was nearly 20 years ago that Daniel Martinez Sr. (name has been changed for privacy reasons), received a visit from the Vail Valley Salvation Army that he remembers vividly to this day.

Their son, Daniel Jr. (name has been changed), was 3 years old, and the family had fallen in hard times. The elder Martinez had recently lost his job and been deported back to Mexico. He was able to return to the States quickly, but his wife also quit her job in fear of being deported herself.

Christmas was approaching, and the only thing their son wanted was coloring books.

“We were penniless,” Martinez Sr. said. “Those are like $1, and we couldn’t afford it. We had a Christmas tree, but there was nothing below it.”

On Christmas Day, as the family was preparing to go to a relative’s house for dinner, they got a call from some people asking if they could pay the Martinez home a visit.

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“They said they were Santa’s helpers,” remembers Martinez Sr. “I didn’t know what that was. They showed up a few minutes later with a bunch of presents, clothes and toys for my son — a bunch of things we didn’t even expect or knew where they came from. After they left, we were so amazed, just crying and we couldn’t explain what happened.”

Later, they found out those Santa’s helpers were volunteers with the Salvation Army. Their son was in a Head Start program, and the father figured that someone there knew about the situation and put their name on a list.

Regardless of how it came about, Martinez Sr. said that day changed their lives. Things are different now in the Martinez household. Martinez Sr. and his wife are legal residents. They have a place in Edwards, and their son, now 23, recently graduated with a master’s degree in finance.

After that Christmas visit, the family began paying back the good deed. They would collect toys throughout the year and adopt other families in need, reminding their son of the time he was the lucky recipient of such goodwill. For a while, they even started their own adopt-a-family program at their church, St. Clare of Assisi. This year, Martinez, Sr. showed up at the Vail Valley Salvation Army the week of Christmas with two huge bags of toys to donate.

“That changed our lives,” he said. “We decided the Lord has been so good to us that we need to give back to people who are in the same situation. We’d do it the same way it was done for us — drop everything off and take off, so that maybe they don’t even remember our faces.”

Spreading the cheer

The Martinezes are among hundreds of families who have been helped, especially around Christmastime, by the local Salvation Army. Coordinator Tsu Wolin-Brown said that this year, the Adopt a Family program that helped the Martinez family had 500 applicants. About 150 were matched with sponsors, and the rest were invited to the Salvation Army’s Holiday Cabin, where the organization through funds from Vail Valley Cares and community donations buys a roomful of toys for families to choose from for Christmas gifts.

The gratitude and the joy that results is touching, Wolin-Brown said. Some, like Martinez, remember it for decades afterward.

“We had a little girl who came to the Holiday Cabin and was in love with a huge stuffed unicorn,” she said. “Her mom was trying to choose other things, but that was all she wanted. (One of the workers) said she could have it, and that little girl was so happy. Later she sent a thank you card with a drawing of a unicorn. We really get some neat thank yous.”

Ring a bell, give some change

The family adoption and Holiday Cabin programs are only two of the Salvation Army’s programs that are in full force during the holidays. An army of bell ringers is also working to raise money for the organization in the doorways of local grocery stores.

The bell-ringing campaign goes from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s. Last year, people’s spare change added up to nearly $50,000 raised for the charity. Bell ringers volunteer in two-hour increments and include individuals, groups from businesses and even students from SOS Outreach, Avon Elementary, Eagle County Charter Academy and Battle Mountain High School.

On a recent afternoon at Avon’s City Market, Carling Delaney and Kelly Moser of Slifer, Smith & Frampton were greeting shoppers and ringing bells.

“This is something we do every year as a group,” Delaney said. “We give back to more than 100 charities throughout the year, and this is one of them. This is a fun one to do because you get to be face-to-face with people and wish them a merry Christmas.”

Many people stop to chat, or at least offer a word of thanks and some change, Moser said.

“It’s Christmas week and people are feeling generous,” she said.

Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 and at Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.

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