Wishes fulfilled: Volunteers vow no one will go hungry or be alone on Christmas

The Torres family meets Santa's helper before recieving toys on Christmas Day.

YUCCA VALLEY — On Christmas Day, a massive volunteer effort will continue the labor of love started by the late Mara Cantelo three decades ago when she vowed no one in the Morongo Basin would have to be hungry or alone on Christmas.

The event is called Mara’s Christmas Wish, in honor of Tender Loving Christmas founder Mara Cantelo, who died Sept. 11, 2017.

This year, Mara’s Christmas Wish will be held from 12:30 to 6 p.m. Dec. 25 at the Yucca Valley Community Center.

The theme this year is Gingerbread Land, with the decoration team led by Kristie Anderson.

Anyone interested in volunteering should attend the weekly planning meetings, held at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday at the Yucca Valley Community Center.

Toy donations are needed and Morongo Basin Ambulance and San Bernardino County fire employees will accept new, unwrapped toys from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday Dec. 7, Dec. 14 and Dec. 21 in front of Walmart.

Donation boxes are set up at businesses across the Morongo Basin, like Mojave Mami’s Lash & Skin Studio at 56925 Yucca Trail.

The major sponsor this year is town of Yucca Valley, using Measure Y sales tax money.

The legacy of Mara Cantelo

In the wake of Cantelo’s death, a cadre of volunteers decided they would continue on in Cantelo’s legacy. Led by Paul Hoffman and Gigi Connell, the group made sure the main events of Tender Loving Christmas went on. A month after her death, they served the traditional free Christmas buffet at the Yucca Valley Community Center for anyone in the Morongo Basin who wanted to participate. Children visited with Santa and got bags of toys. People of all ages got free clothing. And everyone was invited to the day of fellowship that Cantelo envisioned all those years ago.

Andrea Garcia, a volunteer for Tender Loving Christmas since 1999, returned after Cantelo’s death for Mara’s Christmas Wish and said it was an honor to continue her friend’s legacy.

“It’s been hard for me this year. Mara was like a second mother to me. She taught me so much,” Garcia said in 2017. “I miss her.”

Since that difficult year Mara’s Christmas wish has lived on, said Connell.

“It typically gets bigger and bigger every year but this year we had 1,854 people line up to get food,” said Connell, president of the Mara’s Christmas Wish board of directors, during Mara’s Christmas wish last December.


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