At St. Anne’s Park in the Eastwood Heights neighborhood known by locals as “Dog Patch”, hundreds of Pueblo kids and their families braved the frigid winter winds on Saturday to secure some Christmas essentials in anticipation of the upcoming week's festivities.

A large line of people formed outside of the parking lot of St. Anne’s Catholic Church, with each child patiently awaiting their turn to visit with Santa Claus, snack on pizza, select a Christmas gift and – as children have done for the past 14 years during the yearly Mary “Mama” Jaramillo Christmas Stocking Giveaway – receive their free Christmas stocking stuffed with goodies.

Jaramillo, who passed away in 2009, founded the gift drive 14 years ago to brighten up the holidays for disadvantaged Pueblo kids who might otherwise have no stockings or Christmas present to speak of.

Upon her passing, her daughter, Mellissa Alcon, took over the event and has since held the giveaway each year in her mother’s honor and memory.

“She was a very giving and loving individual and she believed in the kids in our community,” Alcon said.

“Anything just to put a smile on those kids’ faces, that’s what she was going to do.”

The event has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 2004, when Jaramillo would give each participating child a Christmas stocking and a cookie.

Alcon said this year’s giveaway would accommodate up to 500 kids, who, in addition to receiving free stockings and presents, got to take photos with Santa Claus and were entered into raffles for special gifts throughout the event.

“Here we are 14 years later,” Alcon said. “I know she’s looking down in heaven and she’s happy.”

One of the many parents to bring her children to the event was Pueblo mom Kayla Salazar, whose 3-year-old daughter, Amiyah, smiled excitedly at her new Barbie doll and other toys while leaving Saturday’s event.

“It’s really nice that people care enough to come out and do this kind of stuff,” Salazar said.

“I know not all families can make stuff happen for the holidays. It’s hard. So this relieves some stress.”

zhillstrom@chieftain.com