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ORANGE COUNTY HOLIDAY EXTRA

Their Yearly Mission of Merriment

Orange County Residents Trek to Tijuana, Laden With Toys for the Orphanage They Also Support Throughout the Year

December 17, 2000|WILLIAM LOBDELL

The 80 children at the Tijuana Christian Mission don't know this, but the Santa Claus who arrived at their orphanage last week didn't come from the North Pole. He came from Corona del Mar. He didn't ride his reindeer sleigh. He rode in an SUV. And his elves didn't make the hundreds of presents. A couple dozen church members, most from Irvine Presbyterian Church, bought them.

Of course, it didn't matter whether it was Santa Claus or his stand-in, Charlie Fischer, who showed up at the mission. What mattered was that children with next to nothing got something--Christmas presents. And the gifts were bought especially for them.

It's a 25-year holiday tradition between Irvine Presbyterian and the orphanage, one of about 70 in Tijuana.

Church members spent the day at the spartan but clean mission. After hellos, hugs and an ice-breaking game of basketball, the Mexican children, ages 2 to 17, put on a special concert, singing Christmas carols in Spanish. Santa Claus then called each child by name and handed out the presents. And on the signal from Martha Lopez, the mission's 59-year-old founder, the smiling children tore off the wrapping on their gifts.

The day ended with a large Mexican feast--tacos, tamales, rice and beans--cooked by the orphanage's staff.

Throughout the year, Orange County churches provide most of the $200,000 it takes run the orphanage each year.

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