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Highland cancer survivor makes Christmas memories for families in need – San Bernardino Sun


Rosy Cervantes can’t have children of her own, but every Christmas she has many.

The Highland resident has found a myriad of ways to help those in need, especially families and kids.

“It actually fills a void that I have that I don’t have children,” she said, “so every year, to me, that’s all my children.”

Meeting Mother Teresa when she was young, and seeing the need on the streets of her community have inspired her to share joy, from organizing toy giveaways and Halloween haunts, to feeding the homeless and giving away Christmas trees.

Having been homeless at the age of 10 gives her perspective, she said.


“Living in different homes, living in the car, wherever we could, because we didn’t have a house, my parents didn’t have money for toys for us,” Cervantes said. “…I know that if someone would have helped me, with even a dollar toy, I would have been so happy.”

Rosy has always had a big heart, said her younger sister, Rosalinda Rodriguez, and part of that stems from their family’s financial struggle.

The oldest of three children, Cervantes felt like she had to help her parents provide for the younger two, Rodriguez said.

“We know what it’s like to struggle, and what it’s like to bring joy to our lives, even though we didn’t necessarily have money every year to have gifts or have anything special,” Rodriguez said.

“Just the thought of having just one thing to open on Christmas,” Rodriguez said.

She pauses.

But it’s not just about giving away toys for Cervantes, “it’s providing a space where a family can still have a nice memory for Christmas.”

After beating cervical and uterine cancer, Cervantes has begun making memories for strangers’ families in earnest.

For five years she has been handing out toys each December from her cheerfully decorated front yard, and offering photos with Santa. This year because the coronavirus pandemic canceled traditional graduation ceremonies, she gave gift baskets to high school grads, and during the El Dorado fire that started in Yucaipa this summer, she gave out care packages and cards to firefighters.

She estimates she has given away 2,000 toys so far to residents from all across the Inland area over the past five years.

This year, with help from her family and a few sponsors, she gave away about 300 toys on Dec. 12, and a few more leading up to Christmas.

Cervantes’ aunt, Silvia Ventura, asked her boss at food manufacturer Papa Cantella’s for donations, which led to about 60 more toys.

Helping out at the toy giveaway, Ventura said she sees why Cervantes does it: for the smiles.

“Kids are so excited to see Santa Claus, and kids are excited to get a gift,” Ventura said. “Some people you could tell they were really grateful.”

Socially distanced pictures with Santa will continue to be available evenings in Cervantes’ front yard through Sunday, Dec. 27, depending on the weather. Masks are required, though may be removed for the photo.

Santa arrives around 5:30 p.m. in the 6000 block of Arden Avenue in Highland, and departs around 8:30 p.m. Christmas Day; 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 26; and 8 p.m. Sunday.

Cervantes loves to share about the people she has helped.

One homeless man, she said, told her last year, how much he had wished he had ham for Thanksgiving, and the meal she handed to him had ham.

“He couldn’t believe it,” she said. “He literally started crying. ‘I was so craving ham, and I don’t have money to buy that.’”

The tearful stories about not being able to give anything to their kids for Christmas are tough to hear, sometimes, Cervantes said, but “it fulfills you as well, because you know you are doing something good for the community; you’re helping out people who are really having a tough time.”

Her family has been her rock of support for years including her husband, Alfredo Cervantes, her mother Rosa Rodriguez, and brother Jose Rodriguez Jr.

“We’re not a rich family,” Rosy Cervantes said. “I’m not going to say we’re well off, but we’re OK.”

To raise money for expenses such as toys, wrapping paper, decorations, hiring an actor to greet families, food for her volunteers, and more, her family holds yard sales.

She said to save money on electricity, they use a lot of battery-powered lights, and they only keep the lights on when Santa is outside.

At the 2020 toy giveaway, her family found a way to hand out presents and stockings while staying socially distanced involving a six-foot pole with a hook.

Volunteers feel like they received a gift, as well.


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