Sierra Vista Herald, Mark Levy, Associated Press
Members of the Bisbee Rotary Club hand out toys, blankets, clothing and food to Mexican citizens during their annual give-a-way on the border in Naco, Sonora in Mexico on Dec. 25, 2011. For the past 12 consecutive years, poor families in Naco, Sonora, receive help from their neighbors across the border who donate, food, clothing, toys and time on Christmas morning.

BISBEE, Ariz. — For the past 12 consecutive years, poor families in Naco, Sonora, receive help from their neighbors across the border who donate, food, clothing, toys and time on Christmas morning.

Each year, the Bisbee Rotary Club spearheads the effort and unites the people of Bisbee and Naco, Ariz., and Cochise County into one giving, generous community that not only puts food into empty bellies but smiles on the faces of the children who would not have had a very merry Christmas.

Rotary Club member Wes Patience was very pleased with the outpouring of goodwill from both sides of the border Christmas morning in the bone-chilling cold.

As usual, people began to line up at the border crossing well before the event, said Patience.

"You look at these people and you know they need help. Some only had blankets to keep them warm."

There was an elderly woman who caught his eye. She had no shoes, just bare feet in house slippers and was wrapped in a blanket.

"She virtually came with nothing and left with everything. She came around the table to hug our volunteers," he said. "It's that kind of thing that keeps this going. We do it for the smiles and thanks. It's the best Christmas present you can get. That doesn't come from a wrapped box under the tree," he said, with a smile and tears in his eyes. "The Christmas spirit just reaches out and grabs you."

Naco, Ariz., Fire Chief Jesse Morales and his team of volunteer firefighters helped the effort by acting as liaisons weeks in advance of the event. They also served as translators, in addition to providing hot coffee that was a necessity to combat the 20-degree temperature.

Patience noticed that some of the women were struggling with everything, so he asked the Naco firefighters to lend a hand to get the supplies to the border.

"I can't say enough good things about the Naco Fire Department. They were out there with us until we were done. They gave up some of their time on Christmas Day to help," added Patience.

The Customs and Border Protection officers were also helpful and allowed the Rotary Club to store the tables that would be used for the Christmas morning gathering and even helped load and set them up with volunteer James Rothstein, who got things going around 5:30 a.m. to be ready for the trucks.

Maria Jesus, wife of the mayor of Naco, Sonora, also helped the Rotarians reach out to the people who needed it the most. She selected 300 families and each family had a ticket that allowed them to cross the border and return with bags of toys and clothes and boxes of food.

Though Patience was concerned that he wouldn't have enough blankets to pass out when he found out that Alco would only be able to provide 100 blankets instead of the usual 200, Pete Lawson, owner of the Turquoise Valley Golf Resort, set out a bin at the RV park and the snowbirds donated 100 blankets. Other individuals donated blankets, so there were 250 blankets in all distributed.

A big thanks from Patience goes out to all the people who showed up with pick-up trucks to help haul the loads down to the border. They met at 7 a.m. to load the 35 to 40 trucks at the Bisbee Bug, owned by Bisbee Mayor Jack Porter and his wife Pat. Though he is no longer in the mechanic business, he continued to let the building be used for storage of donated clothing that generally comes in all year.

"When I got to Jack's Christmas morning, someone had dropped off ten bags of clothing," he said. "This year people just kept giving."

"We had donations from all over the county — Sierra Vista, Bisbee, Douglas. And we had donations from Texas, Ohio and Sweden," he emphasized. "One person came down from Tucson and gave us a $25 check for next year. A nun from Douglas helped with translation."

Patience managed to purchase 400 books in English and Spanish from the Pima County Friends of the Library so each and every child got one.

This year, there was some food and clothing left, so the Rotarians decided to split it between the Naco Fire Department and the Naco Orphanage, both in Sonora.

Information from: Sierra Vista Herald, http://www.svherald.com