Friday, January 12, 2018

Ruben’s Kids – the volunteers with gigantic hearts

Ricky, Lawrie (Mickey) and Ruben.   
Ruben’s Restaurante on Guerrero Avenue in Centro once again rocked with laughter as dozens of volunteers wrangled a herd of excited kids.

January 6th or Three Kings Day or El Día de Reyes is a special time on Isla Mujeres, and all of Mexico. It is the culmination of the twelve days of Christmas and commemorates the three wise men arriving with gifts for the baby Jesus.

The children of Mexico look forward to this holiday as gifts are traditionally exchanged on this date, and not on Christmas day. In Mexico and many other Latin American countries, it is the three wise men, not Santa, who are the bearers of gifts for the children.

Flip-flop Santa John Pasnau and young friend
However, Isla Mujeres has a very special Santa Claus, John Pasnau, who wearing his red velvet suit and flip-flops, arrives on Three Kings Day to distribute gifts to the local kids. Once again Santa had tears of joy in his eyes as he handed the presents to the children. Then the army of volunteers took over and Santa was in charge of handing out big hugs. 

The helpers made sure every boy or girl received a present, a cold drink, hot dogs or tamales and ice cream cones.

Minnie and kids - Lisa Godfrey photo
Lawrie and I have for the past three years put in a short appearance as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, but we only last about forty-five minutes before the heat of the costumes renders us semi-unconscious. 

We traditionally press our family members and friends into service as Mouse-Minders. We can’t see very well through the eye holes and the kids like to rush towards us, wrapping their arms around our legs. Our Mouse-Minders, Chuck and Marcy Watt, Richard and Linda Grierson try to keep us upright and on our feet. If the kids saw Mickey or Minnie fall, and our heads roll down the street, wouldn’t be a good thing. We love participating in the Three Kings Day, even in just a small way.   
Haleigh, Denise, Ruben, Lisa - Lisa's photos

There are so many people involved in this event that was started by Ruben Chavez Martinez just three years ago. I decided this year to include notes from some of the folks who have been involved from the start. Here are a few of their stories.

Gail Stewart, Sandwich Jefa:  This is the third year I ended up in charge of sandwich making. I don’t know how that happened. How does a NY woman with three Masters degrees end up being responsible for making 750 ham and cheese sandwiches on a little island in Mexico?  I have no idea. It was nice to have both our original crew members and several first timers, the Sandwichettes!  (The name if feminine but included men as well as women).

Happy kid - Lisa Godfrey photo
This year, Trina Noakes of CARM and Isla Animals donated all the funds for the sandwich fixings.  Maria Delgado came as my interpreter for the meat and cheese buying, 18 kilos of each.  I was afraid my Spanish wasn’t good enough, and they would throw out the crazy Gringa who thought she could order so much!  But, no biggie!  Ordered, went back 2 hours it!

I had eighty loaves of bread in my front room. Mike dreamt they’d turn into fishes!
The team made all of the sandwiches in 1:15 minutes, with about one cup of mayonnaise to spare. I was amazed, but after three years of this, the organization of it was pretty easy. And everyone was cheerful and fun, and got ‘er done!

Family on 1st vacation to Isla - helping out. LGodfrey pic
Gail also wrote: A word about the teenagers helping hand out the tamales. One of the local churches made the 500 tamales and Ruben’s Kids paid for them. But there were three American kids distributing them, and all speaking fluent Spanish. 

Who were they? Three kids from Des Moines Iowa who majored in Spanish in college. They family was scheduled to vacation in Puerto Rico, but had to change their plans. They ended up on Isla. It was their first time, and they loved it. I asked them if they would come back, in unison they all said, Yes! They were great workers, two girls and a boy. The boy, dishing out all those tamales, had never had one before, but we convinced him to have one. He liked it!  A day later I ran into the “Tamale Family” again and asked their names, Clay, Rachel, Sierra, Austin, and Elijah Tarbell.

Sandwish Jefa Gail on left - Lisa Godfrey photo
And the hot dog station: Marrien Neilson and Steve Ferree were chiefs of that crew, they shopped for dogs, precooked them, brought grill, etc. Jeff Somann and Rick Stern helped on the grill. The assembly line was Mike Davanzo, roll opener and aluminum foil puller, Ginger Somann placed dogs in buns, Katie Knapp Hill wrapped them and handed them out.

Putting the condiments on was hard for the kids with a toy and milk in hand, so Ken Wanovich became condiment king, squeezing ketchup or mustard, and telling kids “sorry, no mayonasa!”  The gringo purchasers didn’t think about mayonnaise on a hot dog! That was funny!  Two great rock ‘n roll singers, Ken Wanovich and Mike Davanzo, spent the day dishing out hot dogs!
The boys loving getting sports equipment

Ruth Lacey, another original volunteer for the event: I just want to recognize a young volunteer - Jordan - who helped sort and bag hundreds of gifts on Friday and also manned the Niños window on Saturday. He’s on vacation and I think returning to British Columbia any day now, yet took time out to give back. He was much closer in age to the gift recipients than the gaggle of jubiladas that he was working with. He possesses a level of maturity much greater than his age, and was a delight to work with. I think he deserves lots of kudos.

Day Grey, food hampers: My daughter sent a photo of a Reverse Advent Calendar to me. (The concept is to place non-perishable food items into a hamper instead of removing a piece of chocolate from the calendar.) I approached Ruben last year with the idea and he said yes, as he wanted to help the families in need as well as handing out the toys. I volunteered a good friend of mine Kathy Nicholson into helping. The idea exploded, in a good way. Each hamper had about thirty to thirty-five items and weighted about twenty-five pounds each! 

Food hampers! Deanne Grey photo
Julie Andrews Goth, Toy Jefa: My job was organizing the toy drive and the toy soldiers, the great group of volunteers who helped sort, pack and hand out the toys. Last year we ran out of gifts and food. This year our goal was to have more than enough, and that is what we did.

All the toys were separated into age groups with similar interests: Infant to two years, three to five years, six to nine year, ten to twelve, and school supplies. Then the toys were counted and recorded to ensure we had enough for Three Kings Day both on Isla and at Casa Hogar the orphanage that Ruben’s Kids helps support. At the last minute the residents of the colonia Guadalapaña said they didn’t have enough toys for their annual party and Ruben was pleased to share.  

Over two thousand toys were donated by the generous visitors who love this island and its beautiful people. My committee of women was so unbelievable and Rob was very understanding as we sorted, assembled and packed up all the toys in our home.

The most touching moment for me was when Santa hugged and presented a big turquoise ball to Pedro, a young man with Down’s Syndrome. Pedro cried, Santa cried, and everyone around them cried too! There are many more stories but this is my favorite.

Terri and Sam, two more great volunteers! Jackie Conlon photo

And from Lawrie and me, thank you to Ruben Chavez Martinez for starting with this amazing event. And special thanks to Ricky Za’Ga, Diego Gelmy Gonzalez Garrido and his family, all of the un-named volunteers, John Pasnau and the board of advisors for Ruben’s Kids for pulling off another fabulous El Día de Reyes

You are all amazing!


Lynda & Lawrie

Making little kids laugh - Jackie's photo
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