The following is a brazen, unabashed, no-regrets, shameless and sincere call to your humanity, generosity, magnanimity, community spirit and guilt.

Kids in Northern New Mexico, many mired in the kind of grinding and gut-wrenching poverty most of us can’t imagine, are within 12 days of having no Christmas at all. No presents.

Jyl DeHaven and her co-workers can’t stand the thought. So they’re asking for your help.

“The groups that serve those kiddos, the groups we’re trying to help, we are their Christmas,” says DeHaven, a commercial real estate broker who lives in Santa Fe.

Yup, it’s a pandemic story. But read on. This one could get better.

In any other year, the Santa Fe Fire Department would sponsor a toy drive for kids in the north, providing the kinds of gifts that make a kid squeal and smile. It’s an effort that puts a pretty punctuation on a tough year, but one with hope.

But as we all know, our first responders are a little busy, a little worn down, in ‘20. That’s where DeHaven and her colleagues at Exit Realty Advantage NM, a real estate firm based in Los Alamos, entered the picture. In the void, people there decided to take the baton on the toy drive, focusing on nine nonprofits in Northern New Mexico (Casa Familia Family Shelter; Santa Fe Indigenous Center; Santa Fe Dreamers; Santo Domingo Social Services; Presbyterian Medical Services Family Health; Villa Therese Clinic; the state Children, Youth and Families Department; St. Elizabeth Homeless Teens Shelter and Las Cumbres).

The goal: Acquire enough toys for 700 kids.

The reality: They’re at about 250.

DeHaven says she understands the issue — a lot of would-be corporate donors are either tapped out or already spoken for, because COVID-19 has been a daily human and economic nightmare since the middle of March. And she understands the fact Exit’s Los Alamos base might make someone think the efforts are centered for that city only. They aren’t. The toys will be distributed throughout the area.

But mostly, and this is where you and I come in, these kids just need a few of our dollars and a little of our effort. Organizers have created a website — exittoydrive.com — that pretty much makes this an easy play. You can either buy a toy directly online, where it will be delivered to Exit for delivery, or donate money that eventually will pay off under someone’s tree or pillow. And if you want to do it the old-fashioned way — buy something at a local store and drop it off — any Los Alamos or Santa Fe city fire department station will take them at a contact-less blue bin.

Lance Eaton, owner of Exit, isn’t playing fair with his friends; DeHaven says he’s posting pictures of some of the toys that have been collected. DeHaven says she’s stunned by the outpouring, until she realizes, “Oh, by the way, we need three times this.”

The project, DeHaven says, has prompted plenty of reflection.

“What I’ve have found for myself is that we basically know this isn’t going to be a regular Christmas,” she says. “I’ve kind of said to myself, I’m not going to see people anyway, so it’s a great year to give. I think that’s what matters at Christmas anyway. And somebody isn’t going to have a holiday unless you make it happen.”

DeHaven is spot-on, of course. Our holidays this year — our daily lives — no longer are our own in the era of COVID-19. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s how interdependent and fragile all of us are, and how those two edges are so close. A breath, a sneeze can lead to illness and death. And yet, the simplest of kindnesses, even a Christmas gift, can lift a person up to heights they couldn’t have imagined.

This community has a way. About six or seven months ago, former Gov. Bill Richardson had an idea to create a fund that would help people buy groceries as their jobs and paychecks went away. The New Mexican joined in the effort, and the Empty Pantry Fund was born. You can say what you will about Richardson — and for that matter, the newspaper — but nearly $218,000 was raised in the effort, and a lot of people got fed.

Surely by now you also know about The New Mexican’s Empty Stocking Fund — the annual fundraising push to help area residents who are struggling. The goal: Raise $275,000. The reality: We’re at $154,000. It’s going to be close. You can make tax-deductible donations online at santafenewmexican.com/empty_stocking or mail a check to The New Mexican’s Empty Stocking Fund c/o the Santa Fe Community Foundation, P.O. Box 1827, Santa Fe, NM 87504-1827. Donors may choose to remain anonymous.

Trust me: I know there are times when you can’t give. And a lot of people this year can’t. But if you have the means, this is the year. Make a kid’s day. Help a fellow member of the community get through the holidays. Ask a senior citizen center what you can do. There are a variety of nonprofits, star nonprofits, that need help.

But do something, even if it’s only dusting off a credit card.

This time, Christmas depends on all of us.

Phill Casaus is editor of

The New Mexican.

(2) comments

Lloyd Dobber

It's great seeing the Exit Realty and the New Mexican put out something positive and truly show the holiday spirit. Well done!

Maire O'Neill

Thank you for writing about this great project. In these days when many people are struggling, it is so important for those who have not lost income or employement due to COVID to help out wherever possible. This is a grim time for so many.

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