|Father Eloi Arsenault helps serve food at a Christmas party for children in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.|
The small gesture moved Father Eloi Arsenault to tears.
As each child rose to select a gift from the pile, the retired Egmont Bay priest was overcome with emotion.
"It was really moving and touching," said Arsenault. "Most of us had tears in our eyes when we went there, especially after the Christmas party, seeing the youngsters so brightened to receive such a little gift."
Just a few weeks ago Arsenault, who winters in Mexico, and a small group of Canadians, helped make Christmas brighter for poor school children in a suburb of the Mexican city of Puerto Vallarta.
Spearheaded by Moncton, N.B., native Thomas Landry, the group collected almost $4,000 to buy presents for 250 school children and 30 of their younger siblings.
Several years ago, Landry, an architectural drafter, was vacationing in Mexico when he met a local man, Marcos, who would collect money to buy Christmas presents for impoverished neighborhood children.
"No present was worth more than $3 or $5," recalled Landry. "The children would line up on the street, the poor kids in the neighborhood who went to the school down the street."
Volcanes School, although government funded, has little money and its students even less.
"There's need here everywhere," said Landry. "Once you get past the beach, it can be pretty poor."
He began to help Marcos and volunteered at weekly pizza parties for the students.
"You get to know these kids. After the years go by, you see the same faces. They touch us."
Then, three years ago, Landry was invited to the school's Christmas party. Two Canadian women had bought food and a handful of gifts were donated but not all 250 students received a present.
Landry decided to email his friends, including several Islanders, asking them to donate. That year, presents were bought for 80 children.
Donations ballooned this year to $4,000, enough to buy something for each child.
And, thanks to the kindness of several Islanders, including Summerside's Peter Jendrick, the children had a Christmas party to remember.
Jendrick donated money to buy a Burger King meal, a special treat for the students.
Jendrick, Arsenault, Landry and several other Islanders, including John and Brenda Bray of Bedeque and Sandra Arsenault of Summerside, helped shop for presents and serve the meal to the appreciative youngsters.
"There was an abundance of joy. It was a wonderful afternoon," said Landry.
Father Arsenault said, "I feel very fortunate to be aware of what's going on, to sort of learn to live with less."
Landry and Arsenault said the need at the school is great, not only during the holidays when people think of giving.
Government only provides the school with the bare necessities.
"There's no toilet paper, no erasers, chalk," said Landry. "All that stuff, it's up to the parents and the neighborhood to gather the money."
Many vacationers, including several Islanders, also volunteer at the school, teaching children English, math and computer skills after classes.
Landry noted the school has a website where those wishing to donate towards everyday expenses can do so.
Arsenault said the smallest donation makes a difference in these children's lives.
"These children, they need donations to be able to pay for their uniforms and to be able to keep going to school," added Arsenault. "If they can learn to speak English then they know that they have a future."
For more information about the school, how to donate or to see photos from the Christmas party, visit the Cafe Roma Kids website.
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