By Barb Umberger | Catholic News Service
ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — With her immediate family in Mexico, Rosana Hernandez works full time and sometimes overtime at a warehouse to support herself and her two young sons.
That includes sending them to St. Pascal Regional Catholic School about two blocks from their home in St. Paul.
Besides the Catholic education, Hernandez appreciates that the school offers “extended day” care before and after school, which eliminates job-related worries about how to get her second- and fifth-grade boys, ages 7 and 10, to school and back home.
Money is tight, especially at Christmas. But two years ago, St. Pascal’s principal, Inna Collier Paske, surprised Hernandez with gift cards from a generous benefactor who, for the past five years, had asked Collier Paske to give sets of gift cards to families in need.
The Hernandez family was a recipient in 2020 and 2021 of a $200 gift card to Cub for groceries and a $100 gift card for each child to Target (changing to Walmart this year). The benefactor also gives a $50 gift card for each adult.
Hernandez, 42, recalled the moment that first year when she realized she could buy Christmas presents for her sons.
“I was crying because I felt so blessed, because my kids were so happy,” she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. “We went to Target and they chose a toy, and then they grabbed some pajamas.”
Last year, the gift cards enabled the family to buy an artificial Christmas tree and ornaments that they could set up year after year. Before that, her boys told her that Christmas without a decorated tree didn’t seem like “a real Christmas.”
She had told them she couldn’t afford a tree but could purchase something less expensive, like a window decoration.
Hernandez used the Cub gift card to buy groceries, including the makings of “a really nice Christmas dinner” with Mexican food, she said.
When she told her boys about the gift cards, her older son was moved to draw a thank-you card and picture for the donor.
The donor requested anonymity for his years of donations, but during a recent interview with The Catholic Spirit, agreed to be named: Kevin Todd.
Now 66, he said his three children went to St. Pascal. But before the children were old enough to start school, he and his wife, both working low-wage jobs, struggled financially. Catholic Charities helped the family, he said. And he recalled nuns coming to the family’s door with baskets of food.
To this day, he’s not certain where the nuns were based or who “tipped them off” about their situation. “We were very grateful,” he said.
But, no single event started the ball rolling for his contributions the past five years, said Todd, who lives in North St. Paul. His own childhood Christmases were happy.
“My parents had a wonderful Christmas,” he said, recalling how his father, who died just weeks ago, made presents for his children, including a play stove and refrigerator for his sister that saw a lot of use.
“He would refurbish things for the kids — tricycles, bicycles, toys. We didn’t care,” said Todd, who grew up in South St. Paul. “He’d pick up a tricycle and sand it, paint it, decal it, make it brand new again. … We were happy.”
“Santa always came,” he added. “We had very fun Christmases. And spiritual, also.”
Todd is a member of a rock ‘n’ roll tribute band, Arch Allies, that plays classic rock songs by such artists as Bon Jovi, Boston, Def Leppard, Journey, Queen, REO Speedwagon and Styx. He plays lead guitar and sings backup vocals.
Todd plans to continue helping three families each year. “I just want these families to have a good Christmas,” he said, recalling that one family helped this year has six children.
“I want to help people who can’t afford to have a Christmas,” Todd said. It’s not about giving back, he said, but rather “giving forward.”