Jaycees Christmas Shopping Tour gives to underprivileged kids
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Rey Rodriguez stopped his pencil mid-maze and jerked his body around when he heard whispers of Santa Claus arriving.
On his tippy toes, the 5-year-old peered through the crowd of more than 300 in search of Old Saint Nick, who stood against a backdrop of presents.
"The presents" were Rey's favorite part of the 48th Annual Victoria Jaycees Christmas Shopping Tour, though there was plenty else to appreciate.
Rey was there with his grandmother, Diane Rodriguez, and the two were enjoying their first Christmas together with her as his caregiver.
"The Jaycees, they do a good job doing this for the kids," Rodriguez said. "I appreciate it."
The choir from Victoria West High School and Ballet Folklorico performed while kids and their families chowed down on spaghetti and meatballs prepared by the Culinary Technical Institute, which is made up of Victoria East and West high schools.
Chef Jason Gray, instructor of the institute in existence only a few months, said he and his students had spent the last two days preparing more than 50 pounds of meatballs, 40 pounds of spaghetti and 600 sugar cookies.
"I wanted the students to learn there's nothing wrong with putting in a little hard work to have a satisfying outcome," Gray said.
Taking a few seconds to think about how it felt to see kids enjoying the Christmas celebration, Gray settled on, "amazing."
"We're giving back to some of the these kids who might not be able to get these things otherwise," he said.
Rodriguez said she'd heard about the Christmas shopping tour before, but didn't know how to get involved until CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates, signed her up.
CASA was responsible for gathering most of the families, but the community donated the funds responsible for the table full of gifts Rey was eyeing.
One by one, each child was called up to receive his or her gift from Santa. Rey squirmed in his chair while waiting for the "R's" turn in the alphabet and told the story of he and his grandma having to wait at "two whole trains" in order to get to the Jaycees Hall.
"He's too excited to eat," Rodriguez said.
When it was finally Rey's turn, he grabbed his gift from Santa, raced to the nearest empty table, and ripped the neatly wrapped paper.
"Robot, robot, robot," he voiced, showing off the moving toy to people nearby.
It wasn't what he'd asked from Santa, but thankfully, the night wasn't over. The Rodriguezes would be heading to Walmart next, armed with a gift card and a shopping buddy from the Jaycees, if they wanted.
But Rey had already envisioned his purchase: an airplane or maybe a toy gun.
"I don't think he needs help," Rodriguez said. "He's pretty familiar with the Walmart toy department."