Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Holiday arts, crafts and steaming hot chocolate served up at coffeehouse event

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A mother and her child work on a craft together during an event held last week at a La Cañada Flintridge Starbucks.
(Joe Puglia)

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.”

Perhaps that transcendental perspective adds to the story of the birth of Christ. According to Christian tradition, when the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds watching over their flocks at night, a divine glory shone around them. To me, that might be considered the first example of Christmas magic. “Do not be afraid,” the angel heralded. “I bring you tidings of great joy … a Savior has been born to you in the city of David.”

Whether it’s fiction or truth, it hardly matters. The magic of the season is upon us, and even if it’s a day or two or three, love prevails. In turn, families and communities flourish. Last week, a holiday-themed arts and crafts event at a La Cañada Starbucks brought to life the tidings of the season. Orchestrated by store manager Bettie Gonzalez and her baristas, the children from the Foothills created holiday treasures in the Starbucks on Foothill Boulevard where an El Pollo Loco used to operate.

“I love to see how parents can be involved with their children. I want to do something for our community,” Gonzalez told me. “This time of year, I’m ready to hear children giggle. Children are our future, and we have to enrich them.”


Gonzalez brings an altruistic philosophy to her management style. One of the baristas, Gloria Yeh, tutors children. Chelsea Logan and Klansi Eisaghoolian built boxes to gather toys for Hillside Residential Treatment Services and assisted in creating a snow day for children. The team sponsors a toy drive, and all are welcome to drop off donations of new toys there.

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La Cañada Starbucks manager Bettie Gonzalez, left, with co-workers Drew Sanchez and Anthony de Rosa welcomed participants Saturday to their store’s holiday arts and crafts event.
(Joe Puglia)

I was an interloper who came to work on chapter four of my novel. However, when I saw groups of children and their parents busy creating their treasures during the arts and crafts event, I recognized I had stepped into Christmas magic.

Nine-year-old Liam Rodriguez proudly displayed a book he had designed titled “A Christmas Story,” that was filled with stick figures. Under the direction of Starbucks team members Anthony DeRosa, Vicki Edwards and Geneva Carrasco, along with volunteers Laure and Ely Rodriguez, small children artistically engineered unique Christmas ornaments and gift boxes. Some children wrote letters to Santa.

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Liam Rodriguez proudly displays the book he created, “A Christmas Story,” during an event held last weekend at a Starbucks in La Cañada Flintridge.
(Joe Puglia)


Throughout the evening, Christina Romero, Drew Sanchez, Anthony de Rosa and Gigi Pelayo served hot chocolate and treats to the children.

“It was a joy to see kids in their zone,” Gonzalez told me at the end of the event. “Many of the families who came were my drive-through customers. I knew almost all of them.

“I grew up in a very nurturing family,” she continued. “I came to America from Mexico feeling very rich.”

She pays it forward. And, as she passes on the love, she assures the continuance of Christmas magic.

“If things are good in someone’s life, I hope they’ll give back one way or another,” Gonzalez said. “My grandmother used to say, ‘We can look at the bad experiences in our life, or we can look at the good.’”

Gonzalez paused for a contemplative moment, then continued: “You’ll stop being the victim the day you decide to be a survivor.”

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. I’ll see you around town.

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