They are humble, gracious, grateful and give with love and joy. Last Thursday, members of the Guadalupe Catholic Church on the west side of Salt Lake celebrated the birthday of the Virgin de Guadalupe. It was on December 12, 1532 that she appeared, not to the church leaders, but to Juan Diego, a humble indigenous Indian on the top of Tepeyac, a hill in Mexico City. She is the patron saint of Mexico and celebrated at the Guadalupe church for as long as I can remember.

Now, the celebration reminds me of that church’s fundraising committee I served on years ago. I was part of the Guadalupe Parish committee assigned to work on our patron saint's birthday celebration and to raise funds to fill the coffers to keep things running — like lights, heat and water for the church. It was then I learned from the parish members that fund-raising is about much more than just making money.

Some of us have come to easily accept that when we hope to make money for such causes, we can scrimp on food and entertainment, or put out less, and people will understand because it's for a good cause. But to these members, to do so would have meant a loss of what's important — the joy of sharing and sense of community.

As a committee, we agreed on a breakfast after the morning procession. The idea behind the breakfast was to bring in some money for an economically strapped organization — or so I thought. But as the committee planned events and menus, it was obvious that the members were more concerned about bringing joy to others and making sure that everybody could participate and enjoy the good breakfast, with little consideration for the bottom line. The breakfast committee insisted on providing two tortillas, not one, with each meal. This would, of course, cut into the profit. A few of us were just focused on making money even if it meant putting out less. But for the others, it was the joy of giving and making the celebration a great event for the whole congregation and visitors that took precedence over making money.

We also planned to have an evening dance as part of the continuation of the fundraiser. As another way of raising funds, I thought using the church sound system, rather than hiring a band, would help to make more money for the parish. But members of the group wanted to make sure it was a joyous celebration by having a live mariachi band for the dance, costing close to $1,000. Needless to say, everyone had a wonderful time with the band, but at almost $800 in the hole, we couldn't afford many more fundraisers.

As I look back on this experience, it made me realize that the hearts of the parishioners exemplified the spirit of Christmas. They did not simply pray about it and attend church, but they lived it in their daily lives. For them, the joy of giving and sharing their love with others was more important than making money. Though the parish is a humble one, it is rich with the warmth that radiates from the heart of each parishioner.

While the committee did little in the way of raising funds, they did much in raising spirits — the real meaning of Christmas. It was not the money that was important, rather the joy of giving and sense of community — food for the soul.

Utah native John Florez has been on Sen. Orrin Hatch's staff, served as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and commission on Hispanic education. Email: