The Star-News

Vets get a helping hand from Christmas

Sat, Oct 22 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampite

Christmas came early again for 10 Chula Vista residents.

This year, the Christmas in October program focused on giving back to veterans and their loved ones, including two Pearl Harbor survivors, disabled veterans and a few widows.

A 90-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor, Henry Cruz was a mess attendant first class aboard the U.S.S. Arizona when it was sunk in Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Cruz lives with his wife Lorraine.

The morning of Christmas in October, Cruz was in the front yard talking with volunteers about his experience on Dec. 7, 1941, during the attack, as a new United States flag, donated by Lowes home center, was being raised.

Jose Jimenez is the director of industrial compliance at the Fleet Readiness Center and was one of 34 volunteers from North Island in Coronado to work on the Cruz home.

Three of the volunteers came from the USS Peleliu, a ship stationed in San Diego.

Jimenez, 55, has volunteered for the last six years.

At the Cruz home, volunteers cleaned out the yard and garage, put up blinds and smoke detectors, removed big tree stumps and did landscaping.

"It's about being able to help people when they can't do things themselves," Jimenez said. "It's a great feeling and the most rewarding thing that I've gotten is the smiles on their faces and the hugs that they give you."

Jimenez called co-founder and chair for Christmas in October Emerald Randolph the driving force behind the program.

Emerald started the program in 1997 with former Chula Vista City Councilwoman Patty Davis.

Randolph estimated that 253 volunteers who worked at least four hours the day of the event totaled 1,012 man-hours, not including those who worked longer.

This year, volunteers set out to complete 10 homes - the most in their 14-year history, completing seven houses on Oct. 8 and are working to complete the others as soon as possible.

Jimenez said he plans to volunteer again next year.

"Once you start you can't stop," he said.

Chula Vista firefighter Josh Sanders was a first-year house captain for a home where two retired veterans live and was in charge of 90 volunteers.

Members of the fire department, police department, city staff, Chula Vista Rotary Club and a group from Job Corps volunteered to replaced windows, a fence and plumbing and cleared brush.

"The opportunity to serve others is a calling and a sentiment that most firefighters embrace day to day with our profession," Sanders said. "The organization of the program structure helps us provide some help to those in need, and they do a good job."

Sanders said Home Depot was generous in supporting his team with anything they needed to complete the home.

Janet Wheeler is the store manager at the Home Depot on Plaza Court off H Street and has worked for the company for 17 years.

This is the fourth year Home Depot has volunteered with Christmas in October.

"When I came to the store it (Christmas in October) was a great opportunity because it focuses on Chula Vista and reflects the community I'm from," she said.

Wheeler said the biggest struggle is getting homeowners to understand there is no catch.

"They (homeowners) expect it to be too good to be true," she said. "Our biggest struggle is to get people to understand that this is truly free."

Sanders said he was humbled by the show of volunteers and spirit of volunteerism.

"These are people who have made some serious sacrifices and have a number of extended family who depend on them," Sanders said. "It's a great opportunity to help veterans ... but you also feel like you get to help a whole family."

For the seven homes completed Oct. 8, Allied Waste, which partners with Christmas in October each year, hauled away more than 14 tons of waste.

Randolph said without their help they would not have the program.

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