The past two years have been one struggle after another for Mireya Diaz.
First, the 29-year-old lost her residence after the owner of the place where she was staying got an eviction notice. She didn’t know about it until Sheriff’s deputies showed up at the door one morning.
“I had no job or any help,” she recalled.
Then she got involved in a “relationship that didn’t work,” and became pregnant.
She ended up homeless and in a shelter with her three kids: Emily, 8 months; Dannielle, 3 and 14-year-old Bryan. The oldest stays with grandma during the day; the others in daycare. They can’t live at grandma’s house because someone rents the living room.
Diaz’s time in the shelter ran out. She currently is out on the streets.
She works at a supermarket, but she can’t afford to pay for an apartment. She’s crossing her fingers that her application for subsidized housing comes through this month.
With so many other issues, Christmas shopping is not at the top of Diaz’s list — nor the middle or the bottom.
But the family will have presents this year.
On Saturday, Dec. 17, Diaz and her three kids were welcomed to the San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission’s Annual Holiday Store.
Parents were able to shop for the whole family using “snowflake dollars” (the amount depending on the number of family members). The gifts were wrapped by volunteers while children also “shopped” for their parent’s gifts at a different area.
Everyone gets to have something to open on Christmas.
The event took place at the Every Nation City Church in Van Nuys. One room was converted into a veritable Santa’s workshop, with table after table full of toys separated by age — from toddlers to teens. There were dolls and balls, lightsabers and action figures, Legos and board games.
There were also tables with clothes, shoes and hats, and even some “stocking stuffers” (books and other small items).
The gifts come from donations to the Rescue Mission from individuals or corporations.
One parent after another — accompanied by a “Santa’s helper” — picked out gifts for their kids. Diaz chose shoes for her son, dolls for her middle girl and a toy for her baby.
“I thought (Christmas) was going to be just sad, but there will be great happiness when they open their presents,” said Diaz, who hopes to spend Christmas with a family member.
“There will be smiles, not sadness, and most importantly we’ll be together. We’re going to leave everything behind,” she said.
Giving Dignity And Happiness
A total of 80 families, some currently homeless or who passed through the Rescue Mission’s shelter in Northridge, benefited at the event.
This is the fourth year of the Holiday Store. Rescue Mission Director Wade Trimmer said the idea is to give parents and children a Christmas they otherwise might not have.
It’s also a different way to give presents. Instead of strangers passing them on to kids, the families get the chance to select the presents themselves.
“Rather than a traditional toy giveaway, we set up a store where parents can have the dignity of presenting their children with wrapped gifts on Christmas morning and be their children’s heroes,” Trimmer said.
“It’s really not about us at all, it’s all about them. We want to give them joy, dignity and that sense of being safe and together as a family,” he added.
That feeling of safety is hard to come by when your life is upended after your husband and the father of your four kids — two 12-year-olds, an 8-year-old and a 16-month-old — is deported to Mexico.
Without much income, Maria Moya lost the apartment she lived in and ended up at a hotel for nearly a year.
“I only worked to pay for the hotel,” said Moya, who cleaned homes for a construction company.
She now has her own place and is working at a school in Van Nuys.
“It’s not a lot of hours, but we try to make it,” she said.
But, she admits, the income is not enough to cover extras like Christmas gifts. So she was very grateful to be able to pick presents for her kids.
“This is a big help. Even if one works it is not enough to buy presents,” Moya said.
Getting By Without Work
It’s even harder when you have no income whatsoever.
That’s the situation facing Martha Wright, 48, who wants to shop for her 17-year-old daughter.
Wright had a place in Van Nuys and worked as an insurance broker until she was afflicted by a brain tumor and Lupus. It incapacitated her to the point where she could no longer work.
Little by little, things got worse.
“Things got rough when I got ill. My husband left, and so did my money,” Wright said.
She stayed in a hotel for a month after she lost her apartment. When her money ran out, she called 2-1-1 on the last day of her stay in the hotel “hoping for a miracle.” Wright was referred to the Northridge shelter where she spent four months. She now has a place in Inglewood, but her ailments haven’t gone away.
But being able to pick out presents for her daughter and her two grandkids, Wright said, “brought a little piece of joy and healing because I’m still able to give.”