It is often said those with modest means usually give the most, and the unincorporated town of Heber in the weekend leading to Halloween came through with the spookiest costumes as it offered up Imperial Valley's biggest haunt.
Five days before the year's most frightful holiday, All Hallows' Eve, little Heber threw out a big welcome mat. Early arrival Dylan Morgan, a substitute teacher from El Centro, explained Heber residents were so gracious it was like a neighbor inviting guests to an open house.
"It's an awesome display of entertainment (haunted house, car show and kids' carnival) and a variety of food," said Morgan. "It's a nice little vibe with great music."
The sixth annual Fall Fiesta on Oct. 26 had two co-sponsors, explained Diahna Garcia-Ruiz, who served carne asada with Olivia Delgado at the Pit Stop booth. She founded the Proyecto Heber (a non-profit organization to improve activities, beautification, political awareness, and sponsor scholarships.), which joined with the Heber Public Utility District as fiesta sponsors.
In addition to 21 food vendors, two beer gardens, a classic car show and children's carnival, there was a truly heart-thumping haunted house, and a maze of madness put together by Heber Public Utility and members of Southwest High School band and drill team.
Michael Zabala, a Southwest senior scared the bejesus out of little children who dared venture into the haunted house. He was dressed as Pennywise, the dancing, homicidal clown from Stephan King's novel "It."
"Most of the little kids really get scared because we pop out of a well with a severed arm dripping blood," said Michael. "Then there's a second Pennywise, and he asks the kids if they want to eat the arm. Then we follow that up, in a demonic voice, ‘Do you want to play with us?’"
Michael's partner in horror was Antonio Leon, another Southwest senior, who admitted, "Yes, I like scaring the kids."
Garcia-Ruiz noted the fiesta celebrates Heber's founding, Oct. 27. All fiesta proceeds go to support Proyecto Heber, which feeds the homeless twice a month and every Thanksgiving and Christmas hands out turkeys.
"In 2019, we gave out 52 pairs of tennis shoes for back-to-school," said Ruiz. "And I like that everybody comes together for the fiesta. We have the seniors who volunteered to do the decorations and school teams volunteer for the kids carnival, which keeps it free."
Angela Pantoja, a self-described soccer mom, was running the spinning wheel amusement to raise funds for Heber United, the soccer team for under-12 year olds who play in the Imperial Valley USA League.
"We're out here having a good time," she said. "Grand prize is a grab bag of early Halloween candy."
Added her son, Elijah Reyes, a fifth-grader at Finley Elementary School in Holtville who plays the middle line for Heber United, "I like the ring toss (carnival game) and the basketball (foul shot) game."
Mike Diaz, organizer of the classic car show, explained there were 32 vintage cars on display from years 1930 to 2018. Fiesta guests were able to cast a vote for the People's Choice Award. Winning was Michael Martinez, owner of a 1956 Mercury. Rival Competitor, Benji Sumandig, had a 1957 Colonial Cream (yellow) Chevy Bel Air.
"I've always been into classic cars. My mom was raised in the ‘50s and I used to like to play in them," said Sumandig. "This car has gotten first and second places and we'll see about today. It's all original, except I like to modernize mine with air conditioning, power windows and LED lighting."
Also working a food booth was Maribel Padilla, co-founder of the nonprofit Brown Bag Coalition that feeds the needy throughout the year. Padilla was working her Mari's Bewitching Treats with husband Rick Layva. Along with frozen lemonade, which sold out, Padilla offered unusual Halloween treats.
"We have deep fried Oreos, Snickers and Milky Ways," said Padilla. "Kids just love that--all the deep fried stuff. I love meeting the people but my husband says I talk too much politics and not taking care of business."