Child with SantaThe Program for Research in Nutrition and Health Disparities (PRNHD) at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) School of Rural Public Health and Comidas Saludables and Gente Sana en el Sur de Tejas had a successful second annual “Christmas in the Colonias.

This year’s event was Dec. 11 in Progreso, a small town just south of Weslaco near the U.S.-Mexico border. Joseph Sharkey, Ph.D., M.P.H., RD, professor and director of the PRNHD, and Raquel Flores with PRNHD and Comidas Saludables and Gente Sana en el Sur de Tejas were coordinators.

Thirty families and more than 120 children were assisted, with help from team members in College Station (Gabriela Arandia; Cassandra Johnson, Ph.D.; Melissa Gomez; Wesley Dean, Ph.D.; and Lee Barron), promotoras in South Texas (Maria Castillo, Thelma Aguillon, Maggie Aguinaga and Hilda Maldonado) and the generous support of individual faculty, staff and students at the TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health along with their friends and families.

Following last year’s success in San Carlos, the promotoras suggested hosting a second Christmas event in a different community – Progreso – to benefit additional families. Children’s wish list items were obtained directly from the families by promotoras and communicated to Flores in College Station. She worked closely with TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health student organization leaders and faculty to sponsor the participating families.

Each sponsor purchased the children’s gift requests, wrapped the gifts and dropped them off at the TAMHSC-School of Rural Public Health. Many children this year were teenagers and requested jackets and comfortable shoes, while several younger children wished for bicycles and other toys.

All wishes were granted, including 14 bicycles and safety helmets. Several sponsors also included wonderful gifts such as bath and beauty gift sets for the mothers. Similar to last year, new and unused

women’s bath and beauty items were packaged in gift baskets to be given to each mother. Donated clothing and shoes were taken to Progreso to be given directly to deserving families in the area. Gifts were organized and delivered by rental truck to the Progreso Community Center by PRNHD/Comidas team members Dec. 10.

Families were invited to a special Christmas party Dec. 11 at the Progreso community center, where they received their gifts. Promotoras and other team members decorated the community center and set up a photography area for pictures of children and families with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Dr. Brian Smith, regional director for Region 11 Texas Department of State Health Services, and his wife, Ruth, returned again to dress up as Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The Christmas party included homemade pozole soup (made fresh by Melissa Gomez’s family), sandwiches and Christmas cookies (made by Julie St. John, M.P.H., M.A., South Texas regional director of the Center for Community Health Development,Youngest Attendeeand her mother), fruit trays and, of course, pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Each family had a special time where their children and each mother individually received their gifts.

The families were very appreciative, and many of the children could not contain their excitement when they were handed a beautiful gift or a brand new bicycle just for them! One mother commented “her child had never received a gift before, and her children couldn’t go to sleep the night before because they were so excited about receiving a gift the next day.”

During the week of Jan. 11, Dr. Sharkey, Flores and three promotoras will deliver framed pictures from the event to each of the participants.Thank you again to our sponsors and everyone else who made this event possible!

For more pictures see SRPH’s Facebook Page.

— Rae Lynn Mitchell