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“Look what I got, look what I got,” came the jubilant shouts from around the auditorium at Pomona’s San Antonio Elementary School.
“How did Santa know this was just what I wanted,” said 6-year-old Estavan Juarez, who tightly held his brand new Superman action figure close to his heart.
Hot Wheels, Barbie Dolls, basketballs and light-up fairy wands were just some of the toys Santa brought with him.
By the end of the day all 570 San Antonio students received a gift from their favorite fat man thanks to Christmas in the Classroom, a nonprofit founded by Chino resident Maria Vazquez.
“It’s a Christmas miracle,” said Vazquez, who was able to pull together enough gifts for San Antonio in less than a week. “The principal called me and ask, `Maria, can you help our school?”‘
Vazquez had heard about the tremendous need at San Antonio and wanted to help, but she was worried.
It was already just three weeks before Christmas and her organization had already committed to providing gifts for two Fontana and one Mira Loma elementary schools. She struggled between wanting to help and not having the resources.
“I started making a lot of phone calls and did a lot of praying,” Vazquez said.
Within two days she got the news she needed: there would be enough gifts.
Vertis Communications, a printing company with offices in Pomona and Riverside, was donating more than 450 toys. That generosity combined with a cash donation from Sergio Cabrera, a Rancho Cucamonga attorney, made it possible for Christmas in the Classroom to add its fourth school.
“I had heard through a friend of mine about what Maria was doing and I asked the employees if they wanted to help,” said Judy Cortez, human resource manager for Vertis. “They said `absolutely’ and really came through.”
Cortez added that the employees are so impressed with the local nonprofit they want to continue to help it add schools to its list.
San Antonio Principal Anna Rico wiped tears away as she watched her students tear open their wrapped gifts.
“How she pulled this off is a miracle,” Rico said. “I have parents coming to me and asking about food donations; if they don’t have food what are the chances of anyone getting a gift?”
Rico had learned of Vazquez and her program through yard supervisor Rosalba Camarena, who lives in the community and who’s children attended San Antonio.
“This is a very poor community,” said Camarena through a translator. “Children always want something for Christmas. To see them so happy gives me great satisfaction. Maria has a great heart. She is our angel.”
Christmas in the Classroom began in 2004 when Vazquez’s daughter, an elementary school teacher in Fontana, explained most of her students came from families too poor to celebrate Christmas.
That first year, Vazquez reached out to family, friends and employer Chino-based All-Coast Forest Products, Inc., to help her provide gifts for her daughter’s class. Since the inception of Christmas in the Classroom, All-Coast has given Vazquez its full support donating money, time, space and wrapping assistance.
Vazquez got the gifts needed, however, providing for just a few students in a school full of need broke Vazquez’s heart.
Other children saw the gifts their classmates received and Vazquez decided she would only provide gifts to a school if she had one for every student.
“My goal is to someday be able to give a gift to all students attending Title 1 schools,” Vasquez said, referring to school where the majority of students receive free or reduced lunch.
Vazquez is on the way to her goal with the support of family, friends and such businesses as HR Insurance Services, Mattel Toys, Ganahl Lumber, Alhambra Curves, Willis Insurance Services and Chino Lumber.