Christmas morning is often filled with wonder and anticipation, as children await to see what gifts were left for them under the tree; this is for some, an expected norm.
But for others, like Mary Borunda, Christmas gifts weren’t always guaranteed unless the local fire department in Tularosa, New Mexico, provided them.
“When I was a kid growing up, we didn’t have a whole lot," said Borunda. "And so, the highlight of our Christmas was going down to the fire station and getting a bag with an apple, orange, candy and nuts.”
Borunda said years later, after moving to Sierra Vista in 1986, she started working at Safeway.
“And around the holiday time, families would come in, you know shopping for their necessities, and I could hear kids asking ‘Mommy, can I have this for Christmas?’ ‘Can you get me this?’ And she’d be like ‘I don’t know. I don’t know how Christmas is going to come.’ You know, ‘I don’t know if we can afford it. We just have to wait and see,’ Borunda recalled. "And you could tell just by looking at them that they were struggling. And it just kinda tugged at my heart.”
For the 11th year in a row, Borunda has hosted her annual Santa on the West End event, where families can bring their children to receive free Christmas gifts, do take-home arts and crafts, and watch live entertainment from local youth sports, performing arts groups, and music groups. There are also themed raffle baskets, whose contents can help an entire family, for example, bake holiday cookies.
The gifts are donated by local organizations like First Christian Church, which provided 230 filled stockings full of school supplies, hygiene products, and candy.
Brenda Behle who works with the church’s outreach program along with her husband, both who are former teachers, wanted to give back to children who are in need.
"I just think it’s important to help each other," said Behle. "There’s always someone who needs something at some time. It’s important to me to help.”
Attendees said the event helps families who struggle financially to provide Christmas gifts to their children. Sierra Vista resident Molly Robinson brought her two kids, a family member, and four of her neighbors’ children from her apartment complex to the event.
“Times are tough for everybody," said Robinson. "It’s really hard with the economy, and some of the children don’t get very much for Christmas. And it’s hard to do things in Sierra Vista if you don’t have a good income … Where I live, some of us have more money than others, and I just figured that other peoples’ children needed to have joy for Christmas as well.”
In the beginning, Borunda hosted the event at Ciaramitaro Park, located in the city’s West End.
"We had Santa and Mrs. Claus, only paper bags with an apple, orange, candy, and nuts," said Borunda. "We had Jerry Hatfield come with his carolers and entertain us with music. We had luminarias outlining the area where the kids came to see Santa."
Borunda said that first year, she had more than 40 kids come to the event. Now, more than 200 come each year. She says she has the event in the West End because "Most of the people that are having hard times with holidays and stuff like that, live on the West End … There are some that live on the other side of town. But the majority of them, like in the low-income housing … live here on this side or on the other side of Fry Boulevard.”
The event is still hosted in the city’s West End, now at the Veterans of Foreign Wars James Currieo post.
The Santa on the West End event and charity is a non-profit. Borunda says it takes 30-50 volunteers and between $2,000-3,000 to put the event on.
Members from a local Facebook social group, the Sierra Vista Social Sisters, have volunteered for Borunda’s event for the past five years.
Group founder Karen Shows has rallied her group to help Borunda since 2018. This year for her birthday, Shows asked for people to donate toys for the event.
“They may not have a Christmas event if we didn’t do this," said Shows. "They would be at home, they’d hopefully would have a Christmas morning, but to have a party, that’s a big thing.”
Borunda said her desire to give back was inspired by her mother.
“We didn’t have a whole lot," Borunda said. "But if somebody needed something, she would find a way to help them. And I think it just kinda grew on me … It’s just in my heart.”
Robinson and Sierra Vista resident Ashley Sturman expressed their gratitude to Borunda for hosting the event.
“It’s amazing," said Sturman. "It’s a great thing for kids, especially those who don’t have anything.”
Borunda has since expanded her event to her hometown in Tularosa, with her Santa on the Basin event that will be hosted at the Tularosa Community Church on December 16.