I think the moms and dads were super appreciative, too.
Rev. Robert Jimenez
Months after a devastating wildfire that dominated national headlines, some children in northern Arizona were having trouble warming their hands.
Then Santa Claus arrived at the White Mountain Apache reservation, bringing winter clothing, toys, school supplies -- and even toothbrushes.
During the reservation's traditional tree lighting ceremony, children and their families also enjoyed hot apple cider, hot chocolate, homemade cookies and candy canes.
Santa's gifts were provided through donations from faith-based and community-based groups who have followed the damage of the huge Rodeo/Chedeski wildfire long after news of it left the headlines in June.
The fire destroyed more than 500,000 acres of timber - the economic mainstay for many reservation families.
"The timber is the resource," explained Flora Jensen, assistant to the tribal chairman for the White Mountain Apache Tribe. "Our community's dads and moms work at the mill. The fire really affected the income of lots of families."
Last year at the same tree lighting ceremony, reservation leaders found about 150 kids in need of warm clothing and other essentials. This year they found more than 400.
"Children have been coming to school in their T-shirts and no jackets," said Jensen.
And the climate isn't what many people assume for Arizona. In the northern part of the state -- much higher elevation than other areas -- the snow stays until March.
Tribal leaders worked with the eight schools on the reservation to determine which children were most in need. "We focused mostly on children with single parents or on those from families living on a fixed income."
"I think the moms and dads were super appreciative, too," added the Rev. Robert Jimenez of the White River Assembly of God. "There were a lot of smiling faces."
Donations of cash, toys and other items came from all over the country. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance -- based in Louisville, Ken. -- was among groups that provided funding to support the project. "When we got word of that, I thought, 'oh my goodness, somebody cares all the way in Kentucky,' " said Jensen.
"I had a couple who drove 20 hours straight just to bring some toys out," added Jimenez.
Concluded Jensen: "The outpouring has been tremendous. This is all the Christmas these children have."
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