SHAFTER, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Dressed like one of Santa's helpers, bar-owner Mary Aburto carries on a family tradition to give neighborhood kids a holiday party. Now with help from her children and grandchildren, Aburto said the festivities a few days before Christmas honor her parents and her commitment to her community in Shafter.
"My parents started it in the early 40s," Aburto said outside her Gardenia Bar in Shafter on Monday. "I decided in 1979 to resume the business back through the family and continue what they had started."
The colorful neighborhood bar was filled with families on Monday, treated to food and gifts.
"Kids come over, grandmother gives Christmas presents, raffles, hot chocolate with cookies for the little kids around the neighborhood," said Christina Mendoza, Aburto's granddaughter.
Mendoza became emotional, explaining the party is in honor of her great-grandparents who started the tradition.
"It's something that we feel here in our heart inside as just a remembrance of them," Mendoza said. "It means a lot to me."
The children are welcomed in the door by Aburto, and then names are drawn, and kids get to pick out toys and stuffed animals laid out on the bar's pool table. Some make a quick choice, others take their time.
"I'm here for the party in the Shafter bar," said Victoria Finbres, who has been attending the event for five years.
Aburto's in the middle of it all. She gets the kids singing Christmas songs, handing out wrapped gifts to the singers. She talks to the children and their parents.
Nancy Arismendez said the party is a tradition now in her family, she's brought her children to the Gardenia festivities for ten or 15 years. She said her kids like the gifts and games.
Aburto said it's a way to give back.
"I was born and raised, on this very property," she said. "I've been able to keep my business going."
Aburto wants to make sure the children in that community have the special, holiday treat. But, she admitted she's slowing down a bit, and she's been ill for about the last three years.
"My family, my children, my grandchildren are helping me continue this tradition which my parents started," Aburto said.
The party ended with Aburto handing out gift bags to everyone leaving the bar. But, there is still also a pinata out front. Kids take turns trying to knock the candy out, and Aburto herself swung with the best of them.
"I enjoy this, even if I'm getting a little older, but I enjoy it," she said.
By this time, a crowd had posed out front for a group photo. Aburto's in the middle.
"Thank you for coming," she said.
A Shafter resident called Eyewitness News hoping to be sure Aburto gets some recognition for all she's done for the community's children for so many decades.
Grand-daughter Christina Mendoza promises the family will continue the kids' parties, even if Aburto can't do it herself.
"The day that my grandmother just can't make it any more," Mendoza said, "her family and grandchildren will be doing it and following the tradition."