Kids and adults alike were in eager anticipation as the holiday party signaled a break in their usual routines. Working adults were able to relieve some of the stress of their often tough lives, many of who work 10-hour days at the local meat-packing plant.
Working together, student leaders from the Hispanic American Leadership Organization (HALO) of Truman State University, members of the Health Action Council (HAC), several church congregations, and other community organizations from Milan and Kirksville made this event possible.
More than 350 dinners were served. Hundreds of kids smiled as they received a present from Santa Claus and participated in different activities made available for them. Hundreds of parents were also educated through presentations and material distribution about the DREAM act, scholarships, health and safety, human trafficking and financial possibilities for education after high school. All of this was made possible by donations.
HAC and HALO members were essential in making this event a success by contacting congregation leaders in the community, signing people up, finding a place big enough for the event, collecting toys and food, as well as cooking and other tasks.
This is the second year that this event has been held in Milan. Last year only around 50 people attended, but this year the active participation of Health Action Council members brought more than 350 people. Weeks before the event, I heard from several immigrants that they were excited and eagerly anticipating the holiday gathering, which has become an annual tradition in Milan to bring the Latino community together.
In a small and isolated community where the levels of poverty are high, this event means a lot to the neighbors. Especially for those who have left their families behind in other countries as they search for the American Dream, but have, as of yet, only found the American nightmare.