ALAMO — Santa Claus came to visit families on Christmas morning in the form of an organization called Cruize 4 Cause to spread happiness, food and donated toys.
On Friday, Juan Lopez, a local lowrider enthusiast and a human remains transporter, arrived at the Walmart in Alamo with members of his organization as they prepared to deliver donated toys and food to families in need.
Lopez and Brown University student and Valley native Michael Mireles worked together to distribute donated food.
“I remember a couple of years ago, my family relied heavily on food bank donations and just knowing the food bank isn’t really active is the drive behind this,” Mireles said.
Lopez’s job is to relocate corpses from homes and hospitals, an even more grueling job in 2020 due to the thousands who’ve died due to COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley.
Before the pandemic started, Lopez said he was moving around 15 bodies a week but transported “at least 30 to 50 a day” at the height of the pandemic.
Lopez is not a stranger to surgical gloves as he has used them to relocate bodies, but this morning he was moving toys to children.
As the founder of the Cruize 4 Cause, which is dedicated to helping the community, Lopez, 48, has for 16 years hosted the car show before Christmas, serving as a toy drive for children.
Cruize 4 Cause also partners with the Adopt an Angel nonprofit organization. They raised more than 200 different gifts ranging from foam footballs to plushy toys and dolls.
Mireles and his crew also picked up more than 100 bags containing bread, canned food, and other holiday treats.
“I like to help people,” Lopez said. “When I came from Mexico City 30 years ago, I experienced not having anything, so when I can bless someone, I do it.
“My dad always taught me to be humble and help other people and I like to see the happy faces on the kids when we give them something.”
The number of participants and toys donated this year have dwindled compared to other years, likely due to COVID-19 leaving many in self-imposed isolation, but Lopez and his crew were ready to bring Christmas joy to countless children Friday with plenty of presents in tow.
As the convoy of cars entered the neighborhood, they made their presence known as they blasted cheerful Christmas music and honked their horns. And in return, the crew was greeted with happy families.
The toys were distributed one per child based on their age.
One of the first children to approach the truck filled with toys was a 13-year-old boy named Allen Cantu.
Cantu came running with excitement when he heard the honks of cars because he was familiar with the tradition.
“I was going to a friend’s because he was going to give me something and I heard the honking so I came running,” Cantu said as he clutched his toy car. “I have been living here for four years and every time we hear the honking, I get gifts because in our house we don’t get gifts, so I get excited when we get them.”
And as more families came out, a child named Isabella Huerta, 8, was also filled with cheer as she received a doll with a bright orange dress.
“When I heard the trucks honking, I thought there was going to be a parade, but it happened to be something better,” Huerta said.
In light of the pandemic, Lopez made sure the crew wore a mask and surgical gloves when handing out toys while Mireles was passing out bags of food.
It was also Mireles’ first time hosting a food drive along with Lopez, and he plans to continue it next year.
In all, the volunteers with the car club went to several neighborhoods in the Upper Valley and donated over 200 toys.
Lopez said he plans to continue the toy drive and to keep bringing happiness to families.
“God is good, God has blessed me with a good job and a good family, so I think I can bless someone else,” Lopez said.