Mary A. Castillo
One of things Debi Cortez has learned is that the people who
really need help are the ones who rarely ask for it.
As outreach director for the Laguna Relief and Resource Center,
she continued what has become her holiday tradition of giving
Lagunans opportunities to help other Lagunans who live on the streets
or who just eek by each week.
“It’s the one time of the year people make the effort,” she said.
“Something insignificant to us is a goldmine to a homeless person or
a low-income family.”
This year, about 100 persons -- families and senior citizens --
will get a knock on the door and be given a Christmas with toys,
clothing, gift certificates, cash and more.
Darcy Horowitz and her family are one of the center’s adopted
families this season. Six months ago, her husband, Matt, moved them
out to Laguna so he could begin a new and better-paying job. Just one
month later, he was laid off, and they were forced into a situation
parents with children dread.
“We haven’t paid any bills for months,” she said. “My job keeps us
in food and gas.”
At one point, Horowitz thought about stealing food when there was
nothing left to feed her 6-year-old son. Making one last ditch
effort, she flipped through the phone book and after four calls, she
found help from the resource center.
“Every time we go in there, Debi is always there for a hug,” she
The good news is that her husband is waiting to hear if he’ll get
an offer on a job.
Residents, businesses and even the Laguna Beach High School
Interact Club have gotten into the spirit. Armed with wish lists,
they have sought donations or paid for items out of their own
pockets. But the additional shopping, wrapping and delivering was
more than just rewarding for these “Santas.” It opened their minds
and made them count their blessings.
“You think about someone else, and it feels good that I’ll
brighten someone’s day,” said Kim Toledo, a 17-year-old Laguna senior
who was responsible for donating new underwear to the Casa de Hogar
“I didn’t give anything. I’m just wrapping,” Guillermina “Angie”
Munive, 18, said. She expertly eyed a football and then found the
perfect sized piece of silver paper for it. “But I realize that I get
stuff all through the year and they get something just once a year.”
This will be the second year Debra Ann Nickel has coordinated a
neighborhood-wide donation program that will benefit three seniors
and four families.
“It’s just been a really great experience and a little more of
what Christmas should be,” she said. “My biggest challenge is
actually getting the adults on the phone and getting them to tell me
what they would like to have.”
Starting tomorrow, her neighbors will begin dropping off their
donations and organizing them into large plastic bins to be
distributed late Sunday morning. After distribution, everyone
celebrates at her place. But the heart-felt appreciation of the
adults and children’s wide-eyed excitement is worth the sore backs
and the aching feet.
“I think, for me, the most important aspect is reminding ourselves
that we are all a community and that is our responsibility,” she
Although the adopt-a-family program will be ending this weekend,
there are more ways Lagunans can reach out. Laguna Beach firefighters
will still be accepting unwrapped toys for the “Spark of Love Toy
Drive” through Dec. 25. The stations are at Forest Avenue; Agate and
Glenneyre Streets; Alta Laguna and Tree Top Lane; and 2nd Avenue in
South Laguna. A drop box is also in the lobby of the Laguna Beach
The Laguna Beach Animal Shelter will accept donations for
“Operation Santa Paws” toy, treat and food drive through Dec. 22.
The shelter is at 20612 Laguna Canyon Road. Information: (949)