Every year, Eli Herrera works to make the Christmas memories of his children better than the ones he had as a boy.
In Mexico, his holidays were lonely after his mother died when he was 8. His father worked long hours, even on Christmas.
Now a construction worker in Augusta, Herrera often works 12-hour shifts seven days a week so he can have presents under the tree and plenty of homemade tamales and pozole on the table for the holidays.
As the only breadwinner for his wife and nine children, sometimes he needs a little help.
He got it Monday, when his family was selected as a recipient for a warm WifeSaver dinner from the Big G Hoops Foundation, a charity founded by Garret Siler, a former Augusta State University basketball player who plays in the China Pro Basketball league.
Big G Hoops donated meals of 12-pound turkeys, macaroni and cheese, dressing and gravy to 30 needy families across the area.
About 10 civic organizations helped by picking up and delivering the meals to homes.
“It’s just a blessing,” Herrera said. “I work hard, but I want a better life for me and my family. I try to be a better person every day for them. But this shows what goodness is out there.”
In the drizzling rain Monday, volunteers filed into WifeSaver in North Augusta to load up the meals and shuttle them to single mothers, the sick, the poor and one family whose home was destroyed in a fire.
ASU assistant basketball coach Jamie Quarles, a Big G co-founder, said the foundation tries to help the community year-round with events but wanted to do something special for Christmas.
Though Siler is in China, the two men organized the meal giveaway as a way to make a change in people’s holiday.
“We really thought it was important we got out and did something,” said Quarles, who played basketball for ASU from 2004 to 2008 with Siler. “We wanted to give back to the community that gave so much to us for so long.”
Siler’s father, Jerry Siler, said his son has continued his outreach while playing in China and plans to start a youth basketball league over there.
“(Garret) has been blessed, so now he’s trying to bless others,” Jerry Siler said.
In south Augusta, Victoria Washington felt that blessing when a volunteer from Augusta Partnership for Children Inc. arrived at her doorstep with a turkey and dressing to make Christmas Eve complete for her seven children.
Augusta Partnership consumer relations coordinator Monica Baldwin said the holiday meals can be the difference between a full and a lacking Christmas. It also takes stress away from families who have enough on their minds.
“At least today they don’t have to worry about cooking,” Baldwin said. “They can just enjoy and spend time together with their families.”