Eighteen-year-old Donna graduate Camelia Sanchez remembers looking forward to the holidays as a child attending Runn Elementary in Donna. She distinctly recalls getting gifts each year from strangers. They were members of the Weslaco church Love of Christ.
“I remember being extremely excited,” Sanchez said. “I used to love to sing and perform so it was always really exciting to be able to do that and then receive a gift from our visitors. It was something my friends and I always looked forward to. It was a very special time at the school.”
The Love of Christ Church has been spreading its Holiday spirit at Runn Elementary for 19 years. Just recently, about 50 members made their annual Christmas visit. They were armed with bags filled with goodies that included what young kids enjoy most — toys.
“We buy gifts according to the ages of the children from Pre-K up to the 5th grade,” said Love of Christ Pastor Gene Hasselguist. “Some of the kids get dolls, others get mechanical toys depending upon their age and gender. We try to get something that they’re interested in. Our ladies of the Love of Christ make about 4,000 cookies which are distributed to the kids as well.”
Gracie Gomez said her grandchild was on cloud nine. “My granddaughter was so excited,” Gomez said. “What the church is doing is awesome. Some kids don’t get anything for Christmas and at least in school they’re getting something. It’s very, very awesome.”
Pastor Gene said they stumbled upon Runn Elementary more than 19 years ago when they heard about a family who was living in a run-down shack. The church wound up building them a new home. The children were enrolled at Runn. That is how the Love of Christ became familiar with the campus and its students. It has been contributing ever since. “The kids are just thrilled to death,” said Pastor Gene. “We know that the gifts that some of these children get will be the only ones they get for Christmas.”
The holiday season isn’t the only time the Love of Christ donates to the school. Every November and early December, members deliver food baskets to Runn families. They also contribute about a 1000 pair of socks every year through their sock project. At the end of the school-year they bring a semi-tractor trailer filled with all kinds of things for the Runn families and neat things for the kids. Seven churches from Pastor Gene’s home state of Minnesota help purchase and collect the items.
“We bring down a semi load of about 20,000 to 24,000 pounds of stuff,” Pastor Gene said. “We have 50 bicycles this year. A bicycle committee here will work on the bikes to make sure they will be in good shape for the children when they get them.”
Pastor Gene said there is nothing the church members would rather do than volunteer their time and money to the children at Runn. “You can’t buy the feeling that’s there,” Pastor Gene said. “It’s something that just touches your heart. Sometimes you see children receive their gifts with tears in their eyes and gratitude. They all say thank you so it’s something that well you can’t explain it. You feel it, that’s why we do it.”