Born out of gratitude for a medical miracle, a Pasadena-based organization is continuing its 14-year mission to bring joy to families in need during the holidays.
“Heart of Angels” adopted nearly 20 large families this year, amounting to around 100 people, to shower them with gifts, food and compassion, according to founder Michelle Marquez.
The group held a drive-thru giveaway Saturday at her workplace, Marquez Private Wealth of Raymond James in Pasadena, where she serves as managing director.
“We had 70 to 80 folks that drove by,” Marquez said.
Each family received boxes of children’s toys, gift cards and other gifts, along with several bags of groceries and a meal from neighboring Rounds Premium Burgers, in a socially distanced distribution.
On Thursday, they delivered the rest of their packages to the remainder of the families who couldn’t attend the drive-thru.
The program has its roots in a tragedy that was averted 14 years ago, Marquez explained.
Her then-2-year-old nephew developed a cancer known as a Wilms’ tumor, which threatened his life. He required surgery at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
“In the chapel that they had at the hospital I said, ‘If you let us go home, I’ll come back every year and I’ll try to bring joy to these children. Just let my nephew go home.’”
“The surgery went really well. My nephew has been in remission for close to 14 years, and for 14 years I have come back,” she said. “I don’t take for granted that every year that my nephew is well and that we’re not in the hospital and that he was making it was a blessing. So I kept my promise.”
That first year, Marquez said she returned to the hospital and adopted three families through a program being run by the hospital.
“We started with three families and it grew to five to seven to eight to 10,” she said.
As the endeavor continued to grow, Marquez founded the nonprofit Heart of Angels to enlist some help.
Last year’s event took the form of a massive holiday party at the Hilton Pasadena, she said. “We got all the way up to 42 families last year. And that’s some 200 people at the Hilton.”
The group works with hospitals and social workers to target families in need of assistance in Los Angeles County. Each year, some of the families come from Children’s Hospital L.A., where it all began.
In addition to implementing social distancing into their plans, Heart of Angels is focusing attention on seniors affected by the pandemic, Marquez said. “We adopted five senior families.”
Most of the families are large, averaging eight to 15 per household, she said. The smallest family is made up of five members.
“More than ever, there’s a sense of need for a lot of these families. We have gotten more requests for assistance than we’ve ever before because of this pandemic,” she said.
But she said she plans to continue working to brighten the season for as many people as she can.
“No one walks out of my event without something to open without a little bit of magic, without a little bit of hope,” she said.
More information on Heart of Angeles, including how to make a donation, is available online at heartofangels.net.