Families pull up to the Catholic Charities office in south Fort Worth, some by taxi, and crowd into the lobby for their appointments for Goodfellow Fund Christmas aid.
Moms and dads, with little ones in tow, come to collect gift cards that will provide clothes and shoes for their school-age children.
There to greet them is volunteer Javier Cerda, a Fort Worth firefighter and a former recipient of Goodfellows’ gifts. Now Cerda, 53, is giving back.
Cerda, the eldest of eight siblings, was born in the United States to immigrants from Mexico. His father was a hard worker, a laborer, Cerda said. And although the kids grew up poor, his father refused help for several years — until he got hurt on the job and could no longer provide the little extras, like new clothes, for his kids. So they reached out to the local charity.
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“There were times when, if it weren’t for Goodfellows, we wouldn’t have had anything under the Christmas tree,” Cerda said. “It’s one of those things where you have parents who do what they can and a community that offers to help out, and you grow up and give back.”
Cerda said he remembers getting coupons to Stripling & Cox and Monnig’s department stores for an article of clothing, a pair of shoes and a toy.
“Back in the day, we’d turn our coupons in for shoes and wear them right out of the store,” Cerda said, laughing. “It was a real blessing.”
Now Cerda has come full circle. Between his shifts at the firehouse, he spends his free time interviewing adult applicants and giving them J.C. Penney gift cards for their children.
“These families come in with two or three kids and one asleep, and you give them the cards and they’re so grateful,” he said. “It’s very humbling, very heartwarming – and it keeps you focused on what the reason for the season is.
“It’s a good feeling. It’s a really good feeling.”
Ray Morin, who oversees the program’s operations at Catholic Charities, said Cerda’s history with the Goodfellow Fund gives him a special perspective and a great deal of empathy.
“He can put himself in the clients’ shoes, and there’s just no substitute for that,” Morin said.
And Cerda said that’s exactly why he wants to give back this year – to make a difference.
“When you’re able to put a smile on somebody’s face, it reflects the season for giving,” he said. “And it brings back memories for me. I know my parents struggled back in the day, and Goodfellows really took a load off their minds and put something under the tree for us kids on Christmas.”
The fund has been helping families like these since 1912. This year, Goodfellows hopes to raise almost $1 million to provide clothing and shoes for almost 20,000 children.
As Cerda says, giving “is a really good feeling.”