Giving aglow

Helping hands, healing hearts

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Taking action to benefit those less fortunate is a year-round need across town, the country and around the world. The holiday season, however, tends to enhance the plight of others often causing a rise in charitable contributions.

Volunteerism is not held to any culture, political ideology or religion. It is as pure in purpose as newly fallen snow.

There are many ways to lend a hand to people and animals in Taos, whether its putting food on the tables for underprivileged families with Taos Feeds Taos, putting a smile on a needy child's face, offering hope to a teen in crisis or helping the dedicated folks at Stray Hearts and Feral Feline Friends make a difference.

An extra hour or two of your time every week can make a meaningful impact in the lives of many, including yourself. Volunteering also sets an excellent example of humility and selflessness for our children, it can even be a great family activity.

Below is a partial list of organizations and causes that hold special fundraisers this time of year.

500 Wishes for Christmas

Wishing on a holiday star

There's nothing more heart-warming than seeing a child's eyes sparkle in wonderment, especially those who thought Christmas might be just like any other ordinary day.

For the 8th year in a row, Friday Motors will once again make the holidays memorable for many local children. Partnering with the Taos Lions Club, KTAO and The Taos News, Friday Motors will gather $5 minimum-cash donations to purchase the gifts for needy children during regular business hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

The longtime Taos car dealerships worked closely with the Taos Municipal Schools to amass children’s names. Santa Claus will distribute the gifts on Saturday, Dec. 16 at Friday Motors at 1040 Paseo del Pueblo Sur.

The folks at Friday Motors have wrapped and handed out more than 6,000 gifts in the last 7 years, benefitting 250 Taos area children. Further, the silent auction scholarship program has given away almost $7,500. Daily drawings will again be held at Friday Motors for people who donate.

For more information, call (575) 758-2252.

Calabash Bash

Strange fruit, beautiful benefit

In December 2015, it was elbow-to-elbow at the Taos Country Club during the inaugural Calabash Bash gourd-art fundraiser. Up for auction were California-grown gourds given to local artists on which they explored the strange, new canvas culminating in exquisite transformations depicting a crane, a hippo and masks.

A tattoo artist beautifully scribed scripture onto his gourd. Pueblo fashion designer Patricia Michaels dressed her hollowed-out fruit in fabric adding LED lights. Another gourd was motorized — it rotated on its base.

The event raised $32,000 in three hours for Stray Hearts Animal Shelter and the Taos Men's Shelter. It has been growing strong ever since.

This year's event will be held Dec. 8, from 5 to 8 p.m. at El Monte Sagrado Living Resort and will solely benefit Stray Hearts Animal Shelter. It is a silent and live auction of gourds painted and decorated by some of the area's finest artists. Admission is $20.

The Calabash Bash is a resurrection of an annual nonprofit fundraiser started by former Taos artist JD Challenger called "Out of Your Gourd." Challenger had trademarked "Out of Your Gourd," but gave the okay to put on the event with a different name. Taos artist Meredith Garcia came up with "Calabash Bash," taken from la calabaza, meaning gourd in Spanish.

An original Ed Sandoval painting entitled "Puppy Rescue," which the acclaimed Taos artist has painted for Stray Hearts, will be raffled off. Tickets for the painting ($20) are being sold at various businesses in and around the Plaza, through Stray Hearts' volunteers, on the shelter's web site (strayhearts.org), through calling (575-758-2981) or visiting the shelter at 1200 St. Francis Lane and through Sandoval's website (edsandovalgallery.com) and gallery (575-758-1400). The drawing will be held during the Calabash Bash. The painting is on view at Ed Sandoval Gallery at the Paseo del Pueblo Norte entrance to Taos Plaza by World Cup.

Stray Hearts has been in the news lately regarding the shelter director/manager vacancy — that seems to have corrected itself with the recent hiring of Cynthia Lucas. Financial troubles have plagued Taos' no-kill shelter, but fundraisers such as Calabash Bash help ease that strain. As she told The Taos News in October, "I just have faith that everything is going to be just fine."

You can help in that goal. For more information, visit the Calabash Bash page on Facebook.

CAV Angel Tree

20 years of putting smiles on faces

The best part about handing out presents to children is seeing the looks on their faces. This is about making a child's Christmas a little brighter, Santa or no Santa. As Project Coordinator Loretta Romo previously expressed to The Taos News, “This isn’t about Santa. It’s about community caring for our own and why we called it the 'Angel Tree' in the first place.”

For 20 years, the residents and businesses throughout the northern communities have come together with generous support to help Community Against Violence (CAV) provide holiday gifts for thousands of families.

The first year CAV helped about 20 children. It was quickly realized, though, that many of the families who access CAV's services are living very fragile lives and struggle with post-abuse to provide more than the bare necessities to their children. Over the years CAV grew to serve those children, too. The number varies each year, from gifts for 325 children to the highest year, which brought gifts to up to 500 children who are survivors of violence.

Unlike many other charitable efforts, the CAV Angel Tree serves clients and their children without additional financial restrictions. Volunteer Angels list each child’s wishes on paper angels hung on the decorated lobby tree. Community members pick up the wish lists before Thanksgiving. Individuals and businesses all participate. Often mothers and fathers bring their children to CAV to pick a wish list from the tree as part of their own holiday tradition. Wrapped gifts, marked with the Angel’s number (to protect identities), are returned to CAV in time for the coordinator to organize distribution the weekend before Christmas.

Pick up your “Angel” on the tree in the reception area of CAV, 945 Salazar Road. Return your purchased gifts to CAV by Dec. 12. Contact CAV at (575) 758-8082 or at taoscav.org.

Christmas Santa Train

A Cumbres & Toltec ride for charity and cheer

A ride on the historic locomotives of Cumbers & Toltec through a "living museum" where things haven't changed much since 1930 is not only a thrill for kids and adults, but helps make the lives of children less fortunate that much brighter.

This season's Christmas Santa Trains on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad will depart from Antonito, Colorado, on Dec. 9 and 10; and from Chama, New Mexico, on Dec. 16 and 17. The weekend trains are 1-hour rides with Santa, Mrs. Claus and their merry elves. Ages 12 and over will be assessed a nominal $5 charge each, to help cover the cost of candy canes and hot chocolate, and the expense of putting on the event. All those who want to ride with Mr. and Mrs. Claus should provide a non-perishable food item for the Food Bank charity drive or a new boxed toy for the Toys for Tots program. The event is hosted by all of the Cumbres & Toltec employees.

The coal-fired, steam, narrow gauge trains take you through spectacular scenery atop the same tracks once used by silver barons, cowboys and the settlers of the real Old West. The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad takes you into the past to re-live an era when steam-powered locomotives and the trains they hauled were an essential part of everyday life.

Reservations are required and can be made by phone (1-888-286-2737) or online (cumbrestoltec.com)

Santa Paws

A critter's Christmas

They come trotting alongside their humans feeling something is in the air — something possibly of the treat variety, a dog play date or something even better of the Jolly-St.-Nick persuasion. They come in elf hats and red coats. They come with jingle bells dangling from their collars. They come to pose with Santa and pant excitedly at the chance to tell him about the bones and chew toys they want this Christmas. And for some lucky cats and dogs, it's the day they'll meet their forever families.

This is Santa Paws — an annual holiday event for our animal friends, including those from Stray Hearts Animal Shelter. This event was started by Art and Susan Bachrach shortly after they opened Moby Dickens Bookshop (now Op. Cit. Books) in 1984. It is held every year from noon to 4 p.m. at the courtyard in front of the book store (and across from Bent Street Café & Deli) to coincide with Bonfires on Bent Street. This year, that day is Saturday, Dec. 9.

Of course, this event is fun for the humans, too, as we get a professional photograph taken with our animal companions. The $15 donation paid for the photo goes to Stray Hearts. Plus, there will be hot beverages and snacks including a New Mexican food buffet, smorgasbord of s’mores, plus farolitos, music, deals, drawings and bonfires.

Stray Hearts will bring along some dogs that are available for adoption — and some cats if it's not freezing outside — and the public is welcome to take the dogs for a walk to get to know them (with a Stray Hearts volunteer, so there's nothing to be nervous about).

If you don't have a pet companion or can't bring them along, you can still donate.

Taos Feeds Taos

The essence of the season

Taos Feeds Taos is as much of a tradition around Taos during the holiday season as Midnight Mass and Christmas Eve at the Pueblo. But while the ceremonies fill souls, for the last 32 years, Taos Feeds Taos has been filling empty bellies.

It’s been three decades since B&B owner Jim Ulmer saw not only the need to feed Taoseños during the holidays, but, more importantly, the benefits of a coordinated effort to do so. He saw that there was a lot of duplication in different organizations for distributing holiday food, and he had a long-range plan to reach everybody in need. Ulmer also believed the community should pass out food so families could spend their money on gifts for their families. Francis Córdova, along with former Taos mayor Eloy Jeantette, was one of the original movers-and-shakers behind getting Taos Feeds Taos off the ground.

The first 300 baskets, including turkeys, were handed out in 1986. Two years later, 500 baskets went out the door. These days, the all-volunteer board of a dozen people, raises funds year round and buys food for 1,000 baskets and that number can climb up to as many as 1,200. The average amount of individual donations reaches $72,000 per year and "every penny" is used to make sure there is enough food for as many baskets as it takes, Córdova said. The number has been rising, he added, "mostly because of the economy."

Store donations through cooperation with Cid's Food Market, Smith's, Albertsons and Super Save also help with making up any difference. Each store will have special boxes that accept nonperishable goods. For the perishable items, such as the hams that will be added to baskets this year, the stores submit bids to Taos Feeds Taos who, obviously, buys in bulk.

The organization supports the cost of food through individual donations and through local schools who hold competitions for the most donations by a classroom. But, most of all, hundreds of volunteers make this massive effort possible. "It's all about teamwork," Córdova said.

Taos Feeds Taos has developed a solid process that focuses on getting food to those most in need. Through word-of-mouth, radio and newspaper announcements, and website notifications, the organization lets Taos County residents know where and when they can apply for the food boxes, which began in mid-November.

Many folks in Taos County are reticent to acknowledge their hardship, so Taos Feeds Taos also elies on others to call in to register people in need. And New Mexico State Police deliver an average of 10 to 12 boxes to homebound recipients.

School donations will be picked up Dec. 15. Over the following five days, boxes are taped, the stage area at the National Guard Armory is set up and the sorting and gathering of food begins. Distribution is on Dec. 21 and 22 — all at the National Guard Armory on County Road 110. At this time, boxes will also be delivered to recipients in Questa, Peñasco and Amalia.

Kit Carson Electric employees are a big volunteer force, Córdova said, as is the New Mexico Army National Guard, of which Córdova is a retired 1st Sgt. and Commander of Taos Chapter 12. He and his wife, Ernestina, said they still need volunteers to help tape boxes and sort food, with youth organizations and high school athletic teams being strongly encouraged to help over the weekend of Dec. 16 and 17.

This year's Taos Feeds Taos is being dedicated to longtime board member Amy Ray, who died this year. The opening ceremony at the armory begins at 9 a.m. on Dec. 21 with music performed by Taos High School's Mariachi El Tigre led by Norberto Martínez.

The Córdova's hope that the younger generation steps forward to take the reins in the future: "We're getting older and need others to take over one day."

Over all these 32 years, nothing gives the Taos Feeds Taos board and volunteers more satisfaction than this time of year.

"This was Ulmer's dream," Francis Córdova said. "It always feels good and when you help somebody, it always comes back. A recipient told me last year that they wouldn't know what to do without the program; they could buy their grandchildren gifts and otherwise wouldn't have been able to."

Nodding in agreement, Ernestina Córdova added, "If we touch even just one person who really needs the basket, then it's all worth it."

For more information, visit taosfeedstaos.org. For volunteer information you can also call (575) 770-4758.

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