Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Service and Sacrifice

This Christmas, I was dying to get my kids to think about something other than what they wanted for Christmas.  I started with a tiny idea in my head to do a service project and then everything just fell into place.  What we ended up with was huge trip to Mexico to help out some families in need.  I say "huge" only because of the amount that we were able to accomplish - other than that it was a super fast (too fast) trip.  We left Thursday morning (5 am) and came home Saturday afternoon (2 pm)  We didn't stop working the whole time we were there!  It was an incredible experience and I am so thankful to Bishop Garcia and his incredible gracious, sweet, hard-working wife.  I am also SO grateful for their son Santiago and his girlfriend Cizdy.  Cizdy speaks very good English and was such a life-saver.  Bishop Garcia had another son and daughter-in-law available who were happy to help and had two very adorable daughters.  What a great family!  If you're on top of things enough to realize that this doesn't describe the photos in my original emailed pictures of the Bishop's family, you're right.  I had them mislabeled.  Oops.

If you don't know already, we got hooked up with Bishop Garcia and his family through a guy in my ward, Adam Hansen.  Adam served his mission to Hermosillo, Mexico many years ago and he periodically goes there to help out.  The last time he went, Greg went with him to scope things out and got really excited about what we could do to help.  He took some pictures and we started planning.

For the month of December, I spread the word with my friends and family that I was looking for stuff to take to Mexico.  I was so impressed with the response.  My bookclub friends were INCREDIBLE with the things they came up with.  Especially Erin and Julie (Thanks guys!)  My "gym" friends were also amazing.  One of them, Ryann, came up with enough little girl clothing to keep every (tiny) girl in the ward completely outfitted, through every season.  THEN she came back with some really nice bedding sets.  I was dying as I was putting her bedding on the bed of a cardboard house, with dirt floors.  Oh man, I thought, if only Ryann could see THIS, I think she would be as excited as the family that got to sleep in it!

The point is, we had some very generous donations, including beds and mattresses.  It was amazing.  As the trip got closer, I got an e-mail from Bishop Garcia that said the families could use some bedding.  It was cooling off, and the families were struggling to keep warm at night.  So, I sent out word again that if anyone could donate bedding, it would really be appreciated.  The week before Christmas, I made an announcement in Relief Society.  It was perfect.  I got so many blankets and sheet sets that I thought we had too much!  Little did I know...

I wish I knew who donated what so that I could personally thank everyone, but not only do I have a HORRIBLE memory, but people were dropping things off without my knowledge.  So all I can say is a huge thank you to everyone.  Wait til you see what you've done.

This is my garage before we packed up the trailer:

And this was without any of the clothes out there.  After I sorted the clothes and bagged them up, there was a tiny little walkway down the middle of the garage that we could use to get to the door.  We stopped parking the car in there and used the front door instead.  

Let me tell you, my garage was a disaster.  Before we left to Mexico, we went through at least 40 bags of clothing sorting and labeling.  We filled up 8 plastic bins, plus at LEAST 30 bags of clothing and shoes to take with us.  All were seperated by size and sex.  My children (and their friends) were feeling the service and sacrifice!  At one point, I took some baby shoes to a used baby store so that I could get some tennis shoes.  We had so many nice church shoes and so much clothing that I was afaid we needed something a little more practical!  It was awesome, I went in with a bag of clothes, and came out with 2 bags of shoes.  Perfect.  I'm pretty sad that I didn't get a picture of the sorting process.  My whole living room and kitchen were full of clothing.  We looked like our very own D.I!  Right up until Christmas Eve...

On Christmas Eve day, I needed help.  I was so overwhelmed, it got to the point where there was a lot of little things that I just couldn't figure out what to do with!  Would they want used dolls?  Would they like Barbie's?  Would anyone play with Mr. Potato Head?  What about Duplo's?  Or Tinker Toys?...  A miscellaneous Magnetic Doll that was so cute?  What about a McDonald's cash register that only spoke in English?  Books in English?  My friend, Michelle, had to come over to straighten me out and help me organize the last little things and get them out of my house.  Then, she let me go running while she vacuumed the house.  Yes, I went running.  I hadn't exercised in 3 days because I was so worried about getting everything done.  And I needed it.  Bad.  I love Michelle - we have been friends since we were 15 years old!

So, we needed to pack up the trailer.  We had planned on taking our little white trailer but we had too much stuff.  Our biggest trailer is a flatbed - but it needed walls.  So, still on Christmas Eve day, Greg, Dave, and Rick (Rigby) went to the warehouse to build walls.  4 hours later, it was looking pretty awesome.  Of course it ended up working great.  Thankfully, my sister, Jannalee, brought her family over to help load it up.  Because I am so lame, I didn't take pictures.  They were a huge help.  Thanks EVANS FAMILY!

Do you love it?  It is SO white trash.  I was worried our little Sequoia wouldn't be able to pull such a load, but look at it go!  This is us parked at the hotel.  The funny thing is, on the day we left, there was another trailer parked there that looked just like ours.  Why didn't I take a picture?!

We arrived at Hermosillo at little later than we expected.  We were held up at the border for a couple of hours.  Oh yes, we got the serious runaround.  Apparently, the government doesn't want the little people to be the only ones to benefit from your generosity.  We were stopped and then let go, then sent 15 miles back, then parked and sent to one office, then sent to another and another.  Basically, the little import officers thought we were too big so they sent us to the large import officers who determined that we weren't carrying anything of much value and wanted us to go back to the little import officers.  Apparently, each person is allowed a monetary amount to bring in without being taxed.  Clothing and shoes don't count.  With 7 people our "allowed" amount was pretty high so the large import officers sent us back to the little import officers who were NOT very happy to see us again.  We were questioned about 10 times about what we had in the trailer.  Luckily, they didn't make us unpack it!  It was a pretty tight fit and I'm not sure we could have gotten it all back in.

After all was said and done, we got through with only paying about $26.  At the large import office, we were told it would be $80 plus 60% of the value of everything in the trailer.  Adding it up in my head I was thinking it would cost $300 to get through the border.  Ouch!  After that, $26 seemed like such a bargain. 
This is the "biletta" that we needed to get through.  It was like having a piece of precious gold in my hand.
Now, I have been trying pretty hard to learn Spanish.  I know quite a few words, but I'm not good at putting them into sentences.  You would think I could understand Spanish but I swear, it is soooo hard.  If they would just write everything down, I could probably get it, but they put such unfamiliar inflections on their words that I would spend all my time telling them to SLOW DOWN!  Kylee can usually understand it, but she doesn't volunteer to talk.  My broken Spanish and their broken English is not a good combination.  It is time-consuming.  If I were fluent, it would have taken less than an hour to get through the border.  Probably less than half hour.

I'll apologize in advance for not taking more pictures.  It was a little awkward to just whip out a camera and take pictures of all the good work you're doing :)  Besides, I have never been a good person to remember a camera anyways.  Thank you iphone for adding a camera so we always have one on hand!

We are unloading at the Bishop's house.  It was quick work with everyone helping!
Load after load, the stuff just kept coming.  Luckily, they had a little room set aside for us to put things in.  Of course, when Greg and I saw it, we quickly realized there was NO WAY everything was going to fit in there.  We basically put the clothes in there, the beds and furniture on the side patio, and the toys on the front porch.  
After a 6 hour drive and a 2 hour stop at the border, we had some pretty happy workers!

Into the wee hours, 2 of the workers ran out of steam.  Every time they asked if we could leave, one of their siblings would say "what are the 2 words?..." and Addie would wearily sigh "service and sacrifice" and try to be good a little while longer.  Makes a mother proud, haha.
It's dark outside and we were only halfway through the unpacking and organizing.  It's hard to tell from this angle, but Saydie is actually IN the storage room, behind that post.  The side porch is over by the light, and this is the front porch with all that miscellaneous stuff on it.
Thank you to the person in my bookclub who donated all the plastic containers (Stephanie?).  They were SO handy.  SOOOO very handy.  I don't know what we would have done without them.  For one family, we had to hike up the side of a mountain to get to their house.  Much easier to take stuff up there in containers.  Easier to organize things too.  In the end, we filled them up with food and gave them to the families.

Also, Megan Jorgenson, your cupboards and bedframes were just what we needed.  The crazy thing is, with everything donated, all from different places and people, we ended up with almost the exact amount of beds (frames etc.) as mattresses.  The only thing we had extra was one twin boxspring.  We had 2 complete bunkbeds (fulls on bottom, twins on top) 2 complete queen sets, a full bed, and a twin boxspring.  So crazy.  Who even has full stuff anymore?  And we got so many sheet sets that we were able to help families we hadn't even planned on.  We got invited into houses where there were mattresses, but they didn't have anything on them!  Just dirty, old, worn mattresses.  In fact, I have to apologize to my mom.  She donated 2 mattresses and I told her I was taking them to the dump.  I think my exact word were "Mom, even the Mexicans wouldn't sleep on those mattresses.  Why do you even have them?"  Well, Rick Rigby convinced us to take them and man-oh-man was I glad we did.  I don't think I saw a mattress that was in better shape than hers in any of the houses we went in.  We just kept making up beds everywhere we went.  My ever-prepared husband, brought his tool kit including cordless drill and bits.  He and Santiago did a fabulous job fixing a broken bunkbed in the house of a neighbor!

The Bishop and his wife were the nicest people.  Their whole family was so willing to help, and so nice.  Every time we sat down in her house, she fed us.  Even when we didn't think we were hungry.  She made the best burritos.  Dax said they were the best in the whole world.  The kids scarfed down so many of them that I was afraid there would be nothing left for any of the Garcia family!  On the last day, she fed us her homemade tamales and man, were they yummy!  She gave us a whole bag to take back with us.  

These are the worst pictures!  Sister Garcia is in the first one, Brother Garcia is in the second one, and Santiago and Cizdy are in the third.  Aren't they cute?
  The first night after we unloaded, we tried to pull out everything we would need for the first 2 families.  I sat down with Sister Garcia to go over everything and make sure we were on the same page.  She is so nice that even if we weren't, she probably wouldn't have told me!  She just let me do whatever I wanted.  We were up until late, and we left thinking that everything would be there in the morning, but NO.  When we got there in the morning, the Garcia's had moved everything inside the house and covered up the front of the house by hanging a big tarp over it.  I guess in Mexico, you never leave anything out where people can see it.  If it's left out, it's free for the taking.

For the rest of the trip, we parked the trailer at a neighbor's house and used Cizdy's dad's work truck to move things.  It was so much easier to get around in than dragging that trailer around.  The roads are all dirt and really skinny and not maintained.  On to the fun.

We knew that at the first house we were going to, it was going to be a hike up a mountain so we tried to take relatively light things.  We took a metal bunkbed instead of the wood one, and plastic drawers instead of dressers.  Still, we had to take up a twin mattress, a full mattress, and a queen boxspring and mattress.  Plus all the miscellaneous stuff. 

This is almost the top of the trail.  Can you see the road down below?  That is where we're parked!  Such troopers, the kids were up and down quite a bit.

This is the front of the house when we got there.  I wish we had better pictures!

This is what it looked like when we left.
The kids were pretty happy about the rug, and 3 new soccer balls!

Sister Garcia is making up the bunkbed.  Can you see the "window" by the front door?  It is a cardboard box stuck in there and used as a shelf.  We ended up putting 2 drawers side by side in there and used the top as a shelf.  They fit really well and we insulated around it with some pillow shams that were more for looks than use.
This is the side window of the house.  We didn't do anything to it except clean.  At Saydie's insistence, we bought a new water cooler for the family.

Hey, if you have to live in poverty, you may as well pick a good location, right?  Check out the view.  It was so beautiful up there!

This is me trying to figure out what shoe size the boys wore.  Foolish of me to think that the twins wore the same size, one was almost 2 sizes bigger than the other!

These pictures are of a work in progress, but you can see we put in shelves and gave them clothes, towels and blankets.  We put the drawers in with the wooden shelves in-between them but I didn't like  how it looked and was about to take out the wooden shelves when Kylee stopped me and said that the Mom really liked those shelves and not to take them out.  Kylee doesn't speak spanish voluntarily, but she can understand a lot of what they say to each other.  So, I left it there.  We fixed the large drawers under the "window" and organized their toiletries.  The only mirror they had was a broken piece of a mirror that was with the Dad's shaving stuff.  Yep, just like you see in the movie's.  I was glad I brought a couple mirrors with me!  I had to go back to the house to get it.

The little girl in the picture with Saydie is 2 years older than her.  These kids are tiny.  The twins are 9 years old and the teenager is 15 - that's older than Kinsey.  Scroll down to the final picture and see how tiny that is.  Let's just say that I was wrong on all their shoe sizes and had to go back to the house.

This is a picture of the first aid portion of our trip.  This little guys toe was pretty mangled.  It had a bunch of dead skin over it and looked bad.  Santiago assisted me as I cut away the dead skin, cleaned it with antibiotic soap, put neosporin on it and then bandaged it up.  He was so tough while we were working on his toe, he didn't make a sound.  He had one little tear dripping down his face and then when he saw us cutting away the dead skin, he started throwing up.  The Garcia's asked his parents if he was sick, and they said he hadn't had anything to eat in awhile.  His throw-up consisted of...nothing.  Just a little bit of water.  For the first time, it dawned on me that I had not seen one piece of food in the whole house.  Not ONE.  We were already planning on going to Sam's club, but now we knew we needed to go sooner, rather than later.  Don't look at the next picture, it's gross.  It was worse than it looks.

Cute Kinsey just helped set up that whole porch.  

This is the inside of the house before. (top picture is one side, bottom picture is the other) It's hard to tell, but that bed is actuall a boxspring and it is falling apart.  They put boards in between the original boards and then blankets to try and make it soft.  It fell apart when we took it out.  They wouldn't let us take it with us because they had to "give it back to someone"
 This is the inside when we were almost done - wall-to-wall beds!  That queen size bed has a feather bed on it.  The shoe organizer is hanging on the side of the bunkbed because there was nowhere else to hang it!  The walls weren't strong enough to pound anything into.  They were cracked and falling apart.  It's a good thing is doesn't rain a lot.

Ah the fun part of the trip.  Are you wondering where the presents came from?  There is a family in our ward with a son who lost his long and hard-fought battle with Lou Gehrigs disease this year.  He was a police officer (Officer Mark Kelly) with the Mesa Police.  His co-workers held a toy drive for the survivors of his family and there were SO many toys, that his dad, Mike, brought a truckload over to our house.  Saydie spent ALL day one day wrapping presents and writing on them the appropriate age and sex.  We picked some out and took them to the families we visited.  These kids were so excited!  I think my kids were as excited as the ones opening them!  

Isn't this what every family needs?  A starving dog.

Here is the whole group.  That is Cizdy and Sister Garcia on the left, then the family minus the boy with his toe operated on...he was too weak to join us.  Seriously, he was really pale and looked like he would pass out when he stood up.  He needed food!  At least he had a nice bed to rest on while we went grocery shopping - that's good, right?  We came back with so much food - including a 50lb back of beans.  I hope it lasts.

It was 3:00 in the afternoon when we got back from Sam's club.  Time to hit another house.  We knew it wouldn't take as long as this one, because we could park by the house!


The kids were so excited about this house.  It had animals everywhere.  Rabbits, kitties, dogs, mice...yes mice.  Pet mice that they let loose.  Ew.  Plus, the kids talked non-stop.  In Spanish.

The new bed.  This house had just dirt floor with blankets.  We put in the bed and bedding and it looked so good in there.  I wish I could show you the whole place.  The owner is old and the house was FULL of knick-knacks that she couldn't get rid of.  I was thinking about it as we were leaving Mexico - I should have offered to buy all those knick-knacks from her.  We both would have been happy with the results!  She was super nice.  No, I'm not a control freak.  

Same house, a little view of the stuff all around...the bed is in the corner that you can't see.

Try to picture this: 2 houses side-by-side.  One is cinderblock, one is cardboard.  The only entrance to house #2 is where Kylee is standing.  The mattress BARELY fit through this space.  I thought we were going to break the boxsprings.  Talk about barely fitting both houses on the property!

This is the inside of the cinderblock house.  This family is not doing too badly.  The house has electricity and the daughter that lives around the corner has a refrigerator.  The bed was there, but we put on bedding, and we brought the dresser and mirror.

Same house, different wall.  There's the food and cleaning supplies we brought next to Dax.

My kids think I'll feel guilty about not letting them have any pets if they show me how much they love them.  Guess what?  It's not working.  Even.  A.  Little.

Kinsey and Kylee have these pictures as their screen savers to remind them of this adventure.  I love it.  I REALLY really love it.

If you look behind Kylee, you can see the outside of the 2 houses.  The front "yard" is the kitchen with table and chairs and some cooking utensils.  We gave them organizers so they would have a place to keep the kitchen stuff.

While we were working at this house, the mother (she's pretty old) took us to her daughter's house that was (sort-of) around the corner.  This was the house with the broken bunkbed I mentioned earlier.  It was pretty nice.  It was clean and organized (Greg laughs as I write this, but it's all relative...)  At least it had a refrigerator.  The bedroom was separate from the bedroom and the bedroom had a full, a twin, and a set of bunkbeds.  NONE of the beds had any bedding on them.  They were BARE and dirty.  This is where I wished I hadn't left so many extra sheet sets at the first house.  In the end, we did put bedding on every bed.  I had to go back to the older house to retrieve an extra bedspread I left there.  It was funny because we left the lady there with quite a few extra blankets because it was cold.  When I went back to get one of them, she was pretty possessive of all of them!  I did take it to her daughter's house so I figure she can get it back if she wants it.  

HOUSE #3:  

More Animals!  Now my kids want to move to Mexico.

Again, 2 houses next to each other that belong to the same family.  Sort of.

Unlike the first family, this family has JUNK!  I was dying to clean it out, but no.  We would not be allowed to throw anything away.  So we settled for rearranging it and giving them stuff to organize with!

New Bunkbed for the kids!  That girl in the pink stripes is the mother.  She looked so young, I was afraid to ask how old she was!  You can't tell in this picture, but her husband looked just as young as she does.  Sister Garcia is standing next to her, and the girl's mother is in the black jacket.

Addie and this little boy put the whole thing together.  It made a pretty cute little floor in there!

This is on the road outside their house.  This house was tucked back in the corner of an area we could barely get to because the dirt roads were SO BAD.  You could break an axle getting there! 

I'm pretty sure my kids got a disease from all the animals around here.  It won't show up for 10 years or so and then all of a sudden they'll be "hey, remember that trip to Mexico we did back in 2012?  No, I'm kidding...I'm sure they are fine.   Right?

Mr. Potato Head was a big hit.  Someone gave us a new one, so I bought a big bag of potato-head stuff at the used baby store.  They were having a blast.

The young couple was sleeping on that twin bed in the corner with a couch shoved up next to it that didn't have any cushions but had been built up with some foam to match the height of the twin.  We took out the couch (falling apart) and set up this full.  It's my mom's mattress!  Haha, it looked pretty good in there.  They were thrilled to have a new bed that they could both fit in!  I don't know what they'll do with that twin.  Sell it?

Now it's time for the fun part:  PRESENTS!

This scooter was for his brother, but he wouldn't let it go.  He was scooting all over the place!

Webshooters for the spider-man fan.  It took him awhile to get the hang of it.

Comparatively, this family did not have a bad set-up.  Like most of the houses, the kitchen is the front porch and it is very meager on supplies.  Also, no electricity.  Other than that, they have some space for the kids and some privacy for the adults so it wasn't bad.  The only thing is, I never saw a bathroom at ANY of the houses we went to.  I didn't want to ask how that goes...I just don't want to know!  Until I can manage to bring modern plumbing to all corners of the world, just don't tell me.

A couple interesting things that happened:

When we were organizing clothing on the front porch of the Bishop's house, a man walked up off the street and asked if we had any pants that might fit him.  By the time he walked away, he had 2 grocery bags full of pants and shirts that would fit.  That was fun for us.

When we were working on this last house, an old woman was wandering around outside begging for food.  I asked Bishop Garcia what I should do and he said something to the woman and she went away.  Kinsey would not let this go.  Kinsey could not stand the thought of this little old lady going starving while we are delivering food for this other family.  She kept at me until I asked Bishop Garcia if I could give her some of the food we had.  He looked at me like I was crazy but of course didn't try to stop me. Kinsey took a few things and ran down the street to catch up with her.  Oh, my Kinsey.  She usually doesn't want to do anything that draws attention to herself but didn't mind running down the street with some food to give this woman.  Makes a mother proud.  :)

All in all, it was such a great trip.  We got there on Thursday afternoon, ate, worked until 10pm.  Went to our hotel and slept, got up at 7.  Ate.  Worked all day until 9 or 10.  Went to our hotel and slept, got up at 7.  Ate.  Worked all day until 2pm.  Drove home.  There wasn't any leisure time, no play time, no swimming in the pool at the hotel, nothing but "service and sacrifice"  I'm not even going to try and tell you that there wasn't any complaining.  There was.  Dax and Addie are used to getting plenty of sleep and food anytime they need it.  Kinsey and Kylee are not late-nighters.  They like to sleep.  At one point when we were 2 hours late for lunch-time, I banished Dax and Addie to the car and told them not to come out until I came and got them.  By threat of death - just so I wouldn't have to hear them tell me they're hungry again.  BUT the good definitely outweighed the bad.

At the end of our second day, we were driving back to the hotel at night, exhausted, and Dax piped up in the back of the car "THAT WAS THE BEST DAY EVER!!" and Addie said "Yes, the very best EVER" and we all talked about how we wanted our own show "Makeover Home Edition, Mexico style"  I looked in the back of the car at my 5 children and it was all worth it.  The stress, the mess, the running around, the cleaning, the hassle at the border.  All worth it.

I never gave my kids a choice about making this trip.  I never asked their opinion.  I'm bad that way - I get an idea and next thing they know they're all wrapped up in it.  They gave up their Christmas.  There were literally no presents under the tree except the one each that their great-grandma gave them.  (Don't feel too sorry for them, Santa came and filled their stockings)  But to their credit, they never fought me on it.  They all just went along with it.

A big, huge thank you to everyone who donated anything for our trip.  I promise you, there is not ONE THING that will go unappreciated.  At the last house, the woman of the house had Cizdy come translate and then told us over and over again how grateful she was that the Lord had blessed her with our family.

We feel blessed to have been able to go over and do something worthwhile.  We couldn't have done it alone, so thank you friends and family, WE LOVE YOU.

Greg, Rebecca, Kylee, Kinsey, Saydie, Dax, and Addie.