San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Smiles, Tears Dominate Angel Tree Xmas Party

Three-year-old José Alejandro Reyes went nowhere as he peddled backward on his new bike, still wrapped in bubble tape.

Joir Arias, 11 months, with a scratch on his nose that looked like chocolate, seemed uninterested in his gift, a rolling cart full of big Lego blocks.

Teary-eyed 4-year-old Celine Zamora was told she had to wait until Christmas to unwrap her present.

They were among the 250 children who received presents last week at the Salvation Army’s nursery in Pavas in western San José.

As part of its Angel Tree Program, the  Salvation Army is collecting gifts from donors and will hold parties throughout the country until Monday to deliver the presents to about 6,000 children under age 10.

The presents at Saturday’s party were donated by employees of the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE). They picked a child from a stack of cards with each one’s photo, name, age, gender, clothing and shoe  size and neighborhood. The donors bought and wrapped a present for their chosen child after consulting his or her wish list.

Some donors wrote anony mous messages to their chosen child. “From Baby Jesus,” read the card that came with José Reyes’ bike.

The note on Celine Zamora’s gift read: “You are precious…your godfather.”

Celine’s godfather knew her only through her picture, which was pasted to the doll-studded wrapping paper and showed a pouting girl with red lips. It was taken at the Salvation Army nursery at the beginning of the year when she was still frightened to spend nearly 50 hours a week away from home, said her mother, Hazel Rocha.

The party Saturday was a full-morning affair. Natalia Arce, an ICE spokesperson, called the children to the stage one-by-one, then kissed them on the check and gave them their gift, candy and juice. A sea of kids with pig-tails, Spiderman shirts and halter tops waited for their names to be called, while others kicked around a soccer ball and played on the monkey bars.

The Salvation Army is organizing about 50 parties in San José, Guanacaste province, and San Isidro de El General, a crossroads city in the southern Zone, said Angelica Aguilera, director of the Salvation Army’s Women’s Ministry.Donor companies, which include Banco Nacional, Coca Cola and The Tico Times, receive a list of kids from the Salvation Army and solicit presents from their employees or readers.

If not for the program, chocolate-nosed Joir Arias likely wouldn’t be getting a present this year.

“We’re in a really bad state. There isn’t money to buy gifts,” said his mother, Carol Largaespada.

Largaespada’s husband was unemployed for about three months this year before snagging a job at a company that makes food products in October. The family hasn’t saved enough for a repeat of last year’s Christmas, when they ate roast beef and bought goodies for the kids.

But Joir Arias has his Legos, and his sister, Daniela, got a lime-green tank top, jeans and a doll from the Salvation Army.

“It’s beautiful,” Largaespada said of the party. “It cheers them up.”


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