December 22, 2014

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Big Sister makes sure girl`s family will have a Christmas

LORAIN — Alexis Ayala didn’t attempt to mask her sadness as she spoke.

“My mom told me we can’t afford a Christmas tree this year,” the 7-year-old told Colleen Campbell, her Big Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lorain County.

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STEVE MANHEIM / CHRONICLE
Colleen Campbell stands with Roberta (rear left) and Eric Santana, and the couple’s children (from left), Mercedes, 6, Alexis, 7, and Xavier, 10, and their Christmas tree.

“It just broke my heart,” Campbell said about the October conversation. “I had to do something.”

There’s a rule in the Big Brothers Big Sisters bylaws that states no “Big” is allowed to spend money on a “Little,” but in a moment of weakness, Campbell thought about bending that rule, just this once.

After thinking it through, she instead asked the organization what course of action she was ethically allowed to take. That prompted the agency to call Target, and within a few weeks, the company donated 14 Christmas trees for families in need.

On Thursday, when the tree was dropped off, Alexis couldn’t contain her excitement.

“I want to hug it,” she said as she ran up to the 5-foot-tall artificial tree, already strewn with white lights and ornaments Alexis and her two siblings made at school, and squeezed its sides ever so lightly as if not to bruise it.

Alexis’ father, Eric Santana, said they had a tree last year, but after moving from a house that caught fire, they didn’t have room to take it with them. Santana has been out of work, but recently found a job in a nursing home and said he hopes this Christmas will be one to remember for his children.

“Who wouldn’t be excited to get this?” he said, pointing to the tree. “It just goes to show you there are still good people in the world.”

Alexis, her 10-year-old brother Xavier and 6-year-old sister Mercedes, didn’t leave the hallway where the tree was placed for most of the afternoon. They took their time folding the plastic pine needles between their fingers and making sure the ornaments fit just right.

Campbell also went to the house Thursday to see Alexis’ reaction.

She was met with warm embraces from the whole family, especially mom Roberta Santana, who couldn’t hold back tears as she thanked her daughter’s “Big.”

“You’re so special,” Roberta Santana said, wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands. “Thank you so much. You’ve made my children so happy.”

Contact Adam Wright at 329-7151 or awright@chroniclet.com.