Mission to help neighborhood continues, even behind bars
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"I don't want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need ... All I want for Christmas is you."
The lyrics bellowed through the neighborhood that gathered together more than an hour before "Christmas in Queen City Park" was set to begin.
They seemed appropriate, given the fact that the event's creator, Marcus Perez, better known as Marquee, was not present at this year's celebration.
But his friends and family weren't focused on his absence.
"He said to me, 'Mom, I'm going to be there in spirit,'" Perez's mother, Dora Cavazos, said. "This makes me very, very happy because I know it's my son's desire."
Perez is in the Victoria County Jail after being indicted with 15 other suspected gang members in October on murder and engaging in organized criminal activity charges.
But before his arrest, three years ago, Perez came up with the idea of the Christmas event hosted by his record label, White Pearl Entertainment, to help the less fortunate.
"That's Marcus. He just wants to give back," said his girlfriend, Yesenia Estrada. "He always says, 'God before everything and everything after that is a blessing.'"
This is the second year the event has been held at Queen City Park, where Perez grew up. As part of his vision, the celebration boasted a turkey dinner with enough food for 500 people, red Santa bags full of toys for kids and Perez's CD for the older crowd.
Cavazos said much of the phone time she gets with her son was spent planning this year's event.
"He's the same man. He has a goal, a vision, and he's going to accomplish it," she said.
By the time the event was scheduled to start, the crowd had already eaten, and kids were lined up at the table of gifts.
At the front of the line was 2-year-old Michelle Lamar, whose mouth dropped open when Cavazos handed her a pink baby doll.
She struggled to wrap her arms around the big box and clutched it tightly to her chest.
"It really is a blessing," said Lamar's cousin, JoAnn LeFridge. "Whatever's happening with him, it's great that he's giving back to the community."
LeFridge has lived in Queen City for 40 years, she said, and the event also gave her the opportunity to reconnect with people she hadn't seen in years.
"Anybody that's from Queen City feels loyalty to Queen City," she said. "We're family out here."
And all involved knew, no matter what, Perez's Christmas celebration will continue in the coming years.
"They believe in him. They believe his vision is for real," Cavazos said.