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Mary A. Castillo One of things Debi...

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

Police Department.

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)