The holidays can be a time of isolation for those with serious challenges and one family facing such risk is the Wheelers in which the father, Mark, is battling lung cancer as his wife and four children struggle to cope.
Mark Wheeler is a U.S. Border Patrol agent and U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
Fortunately, the American Legion Auxiliary Bradley Keffer Post 138 in Holtville and its president, U.S. Navy veteran Kim Vincent, know what it takes to step up. The group held its first Children’s Christmas Party at its lodge on Dec. 22.
“We’re very grateful and feel humbled,” said Karina Wheeler, Mark’s wife. “Kim has done so much for us.”
Karina Wheeler recalled she met Vincent through a mutual friend and they chatted trough Facebook. When Vincent began to visit the Wheelers’ Yuma home she explained how the Auxiliary can assist veteran families.
Vincent stayed in touch with the Wheelers and invited them to participate in the Christmas Party.
“Between the two American Legion Auxiliaries (Holtville and Yuma) and the Border Patrol Honor Guard, where Mark is a member, they helped out with last year’s Christmas,” said Karina Wheeler. “They decorated our house and provided Christmas gifts.”
The Christmas Party was just the ticket to bring cheer to the Wheelers and other families needing a hand. The Auxiliary was joined by the Fraternal Order of Eagles Aerie 1559 in El Centro and the Daughters of the American Revolution, Vincent explained.
Along with cookie decorating and crafts to assemble, about 25 children visited with Santa Claus, received a gift and all families took home a food basket, noted Vincent.
It was a follow up to the Auxiliary’s Thanksgiving food basket donations and delivery on its commitment to remember veterans throughout the year
“We knew we’d help out at Christmas,” said Vincent. “We adopted five veteran families and seven families in need. It started a few years ago helping Iraq War veterans who were exposed to toxins from the tar pits (massive burn pits to dispose waste) and whom eventually developed cancer. So, we want to support these families.”
Also thankful for the Auxiliary’s help was Randi Lynn, Holtville parent to four children: Jordan, 17, Drake, 15, Zoie, 13 and Lacy Jones, 10. The entire family enjoys volunteering at civic events.
“Jordan knows Kim so she invited us and we appreciate the invitation,” said Lynn. “The kids really enjoy the activities here.”
Jordan showed off a drawing he completed but then talked about how much he likes to cook. His mother is hosting family and friends at their Holtville home where he will help out with the turkey dinner, stuffing and lots of desserts.
His brother Drake brandished a Christmas wall ornament he was gingerly pasting together and talked about his art teacher at Holtville High School.
“I enjoy working on crafts because our teacher, Mr. Guzman, whatever he has us do, it inspires me because it’s fun,” said Drake. “I enjoyed myself here today because nobody needs to act out. Sometimes people get mad, but they get over that at Christmas. Everybody here today is just fine because they’re looking forward to Christmas day.”
After a lunch of hot dogs, juice packs, beans and Christmas cookies, Santa Claus suddenly emerged from the back of the Auxiliary hall and invited children one-by-one to visit with him next to the Christmas tree and a dining table overflowing with a rainbow of eye-popping wrapped presents. Vincent, wearing her elf cap, helped Santa Claus identify each gift with a child’s name on it.
Relieving Vincent two thirds of the way through was Frank Tamayo, Eagles vice president, and he was assisted by Trisha McCann, an Eagles trustee. They had adopted a veteran family, the Estrada children, whose veteran father passed away from cancer a few years earlier. Tamayo and McCann became acquainted with the Estrada’s through their involvement with the Eagles, recalled Tamayo.
“I feel great and it’s really humbling and emotional because of all the happiness on the kids’ faces when they received their gifts,” said Tamayo. “This was such a great day and I look forward to sharing all this with our fellow Eagles with the photos we got.”
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