It’s a popular and comforting Christmas tradition: a tree decorated with ornaments and twinkling lights in a family’s living room. Gifts are wrapped with shiny paper, topped with a bow and placed underneath the tree.
For one family in Robstown, that part of the holiday will be missing this year.
When Hurricane Harvey was heading toward the Gulf of Mexico, Brandon Soliz took a few of his belongings and evacuated his family of five to Dallas.
He exhausted all of his funds on gas and supplies to ensure his family’s safety. They were forced to stay with family members until they saved enough money to go back to Robstown.
“It’s been a while since the storm, but we’re still behind,” Brandon Soliz said. “Christmas is going to be very small for us this year.”
His wife, Evelyn Soliz, is currently the only one working since her husband is unable to work after an infection left him disabled.
“I feel so bad that I can’t do much this year,” she said, glancing at her children. “We won’t even have a Christmas tree. It’s not Christmas without a tree.”
Brandon said his family has “scraped by” after adding two new family members.
About five years ago, the Nueces County Department of Social Services knocked on the Soliz family door with Evelyn’s 2-year-old nephew.
Evelyn said she used to babysit Eli before her sister’s ex-boyfriend put a stop to it. She said her sister is disabled and was unable to raise her son in a healthy environment.
Social services was about to place Eli in a foster home if the Soliz family could not take him in.
“I didn’t hesitate. I was more than happy to raise him,” Evelyn said. “When we took him in, he was delayed on speech, he couldn’t even crawl and he was two. He was so neglected.”
Evelyn and Brandon’s only son was ecstatic when he found out Eli was being added to his family.
“He had been wanting a brother or sister,” Brandon said. “He went from calling him cousin to brother in no time.”
Not long after Eli joined the Soliz family, social services contacted Evelyn for a second time. They asked if she would take in another child her sister was pregnant with.
The Soliz family gained a baby girl who they named Brittany.
Because their family has grown, Brandon said 11-year-old Ernest is understanding of the situation.
“We try to get him something small just to get a smile on his face,” he said. “He knows we’ve had to make some changes.”
Despite their financial struggles, the Soliz children seem like a happy bunch.
Two-year-old Brittany loves to dance in front of the television as she watches and sings along with the Trolls movie. Eli, who is now 5, plays with his kickball and keeps a smile on his face.
Ernest said both of his siblings enjoy playing with a ball.
“She likes dolls and books and he likes ‘Paw Patrol’ and ‘Transformers’,” he said. “I want a football and a video game.”
Evelyn said she hopes to at least buy three gifts so they can have something to open on Christmas Day.
“We make sure that we have a roof over our heads and that our bills are paid,” Evelyn said. “We just don’t have anything left after that.”
If given another chance, Evelyn said she would take in Brittany and Eli again. She said Eli’s development has improved drastically and she is happy Brittany is growing up healthy in their home.
“It’s been a blessing to provide for them and see them grow. I wish I could give them everything,” she said. “I really wish we could give them a happy Christmas this year.”
HOW TO DONATE
Here are three ways to help:
*Fill out the donation form. Make your check or money order payable to Children’s Christmas Appeal and mail to:
United Way of Coastal Bend, 4659 Everhart Road, Corpus Christi, TX, 78411 (designate funds to Children’s Christmas Appeal)
*Donate online at www.uwcb.org. Look for the Christmas Appeal logo.
*Text ‘Christmas2017‘ (no spaces) to 41444 to make a donation.