“We learned pretty early on that Christmas is the least of their problems,” says Local 3734 member and founder of the program Joe Harrison. “I eventually started letting them know that Christmas would be covered and then asked them what they really needed at that time.”
Historically, the program has supported a local, single-parent family in need. Using the resources of his fellow Local 3734 members, their extended families and the entire community, Harrison has been able to provide everything each family has requested, including the medical bills of a three-year-old cancer patient, a new roof and, most recently, a vehicle.
On December 2, 2015, a mass shooting claimed the lives of 14 people in San Bernardino County, California. Upon hearing that a victim of the shooting was 37-year-old Mike Wetzel (a public health inspector for San Bernardino County), who left behind his wife and six children, Harrison contacted Wetzel’s wife, Renee. “She was hesitant at first, but admitted what she really needed was a reliable SUV.”
With the help of the entire community, Harrison purchased a brand-new vehicle for Renee and her family within two weeks of the request.
Newport Beach Local 3734 also invited Renee and her family, including Mike Wetzel’s parents, to its infamous Viking Dinner, a feast comprised of everything from steak to crab legs to watermelon, but with a catch: attendees have to eat with their hands (no utensils) – even the ice cream and cake.
“It was really the highlight of the entire experience,” says Harrison. “Yes, the car was a huge deal, but it was getting to eat all that food with their bare hands that got the kids really excited. It was a beautiful thing for everyone involved to see their faces light up and for them to be able to just forget about everything, just for a short time.”
A nationwide fundraiser has been established to help the family, with a goal to raise $2 million to help the family of seven. To make a donation for the Wetzel family, visit the Newport Beach Local 3734 at www.nbfa.org.