Nicky Fuchs / Special to the Home News
Thursday, Nov. 27, 2008 | midnight
Last December, the Garcia family's empty Christmas tree sat in the corner, but the family of three didn't expect presents — they were just happy to be on the road to cancer recovery.
In November 2006, just a few months after 16-year-old Armin Garcia's mother recovered from breast cancer, he was diagnosed with leukemia. A year later while Armin was still taking daily oral chemotherapy medication, Josefina, as a single mother, knew she couldn't provide the Christmas she felt her children deserved.
But about a week before Christmas, Armin heard a knock on the door. He opened it to find a group of people with arms full of gifts and needed items for the family.
In September 2007, the Garcia family had been invited to participate in the Adopt a Family program through the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation — a nonprofit organization helping children battle chronic and terminal cancer.
Adopt a Family reaches out to financially struggling families. To participate, family members write a bio about how the child's diagnosis has affected them, and they also list what they would like and need for the holidays. The cancer foundation then assigns a family to businesses or families who have volunteered to provide the items on the wish list.
"We see things on the family's wish list like groceries, rent or mortgage assistance, beds, clothes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, bath towels and blankets," said Andrea Rapanos, patient services coordinator for the cancer foundation.
Armin received needed items like shirts, socks, deodorant and a razor — and also received items on his wish list that he thought were far-fetched, like the Rock Band video game.
"It had just come out that year — I was not expecting that," he said. "I would have been happy with Guitar Hero but instead I got a whole band."
Among other things, the family also received a digital camera, a computer and $1,600 in gas cards and Wal-Mart gift cards.
"It was exciting because these people don't even know you, but they're willing to give you so much," said Armin's sister, Alicia Garcia, 15.
Agents of Coldwell Banker Premier Realty, which has an office in Summerlin, adopted the Garcia family. Last year, more than 120 employees at Coldwell adopted eight families.
The program allows participants to do more than donate money or drop off gifts. It allows them to feel a personal connection with the families they help, said Tammy Pitts, vice president of operations for Coldwell Banker Premier Realty.
"We wanted that personal touch," she said. "We become personally invested in their lives. To know what they go through throughout the year is indescribable. The stories of the families is all we talk about throughout the holidays in the office."
When the teams arrive at the families' homes, they like to have each family member open one gift with them while sitting and visiting with the family.
"Although the families get a lot of needed items sprinkled with desired items, the true gratitude and joy belongs to us," Pitts said. "To see the smile on their faces is overwhelming. I hate to say that we enjoy it more, but we do."
Not every family or business that wants to participate is expected to fulfill every item on the wish list, Rapanos said, but every little bit counts, especially in this year of economic hardship. Donors can either remain anonymous or can meet the family and deliver items. Those who want to participate in this year's program can contact Rapanos at 735-8434.
Jenny Davis can be reached at 990-8921 or [email protected].