Fort Mojave Indian Tribe

Falling rain fails to dampen spirits as Fort Mojave Indian Tribe Vice Chairman Shan Lewis (l) and Secretary Colleen Garcia join dozens more volunteers to hand out Christmas dinner boxes for 1,000 families at the second annual holiday food giveaway by the Tribe and their Avi Resort and Casino at Needles’ city/county complex Dec. 23.

NEEDLES — A host of charitable organizations, churches and others provided thousands of toys to hundreds of children plus food items to families and free Christmas dinners around Needles this year.

Some of the larger events included the Needles Spark of Love Toy Drive which handed out both toys and food items at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Dec. 21; Set Free Church’s Christmas in Santa Fe Park on Dec. 22; and Firehouse Ministries’ distribution in downtown Needles on Dec. 23; all capped by The Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and Avi Resort and Casino’s second annual holiday food giveaway that provided Christmas dinner for 1,000 families, also on Dec. 23; and the annual free plated dinner served up by the Needles Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and Set Free Church on Christmas Day in St. Ann Catholic Church’s Fr. Hanley Hall.

Children signed up for the Needles Spark of Love Toy Drive during the Holiday Fun Fair, the community’s annual kickoff of the Christmas season, on Dec. 7. An hour or so into the distribution organizer Tena McGee reported 210 children from 90 families were receiving at least four gifts each plus a stocking stuffed with 10 or 12 more and a blanket from a new donation drive that preceded the toy collection.

Gifts included 20 tablet computers, 20 bicycles, 15 scooters and eight skate boards. A food box from Laughlin’s Aquarius Casino Resort contained a complete ham dinner for Christmas as well, McGee said.

The distribution itself took on a festive air in Needles’ sprawling LDS Church at El Monte Street and Lilyhill Drive; featuring food, pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus, a Christmas movie, a companion drawing for dozens of dolls collected by local attorney Barbara Beard and more.

Set Free Church’s Christmas in Santa Fe Park the following day was massive. Coordinating collection efforts with Marine Corps Ballistics Base Barstow, among others, 4,400 toys were distributed to Set Free ministries in Desert Center, Kingman and Needles plus Praise Chapel in Bullhead City. There were 900 toys on hand in the Set Free Toy Store set up inside the El Garces, picked up by 222 local children. Gifts included 75 bicycles.

Needles Set Free Pastor Marty Souter and his wife Cheree expressed pleasure at the opportunity to give to other churches and pride in their own congregation’s response to the needs of the community. Volunteers from all over the Tri-state came to help out at the event, including Tri State Sanctity of Life ( whose secretary, Michele Tennyson, was on hand.

Besides the hundreds of toys there were more pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus, food, a concert by the Set Free Band and Souter’s presentation of The Story of Christmas.

A line of recipients circled the parking lot at F Street and Broadway by 11 a.m. Dec. 23 for Firehouse Ministries’ distribution. By a couple of days before the event volunteers said 94 applications had been processed. Recipients signed up for the gift boxes, with toys collected in the Tri-state Firefighters Toy Drive, during Firehouse’s free food distributions each Thursday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 809 Bush St. in Needles. Christmas dinners from the Aquarius and Safeway accompanied the toys.

The goal of the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe and Avi Resort and Casino’s holiday food giveaway is to establish a beloved tradition for the community; one that ensures families in need have the opportunity to share a holiday meal together while promoting the spirit of giving. With rain beginning to fall volunteers from both along with the city of Needles, San Bernardino County Sheriff Department and others speedily filled vehicles in a drive-through (and for some, walk-through) distribution area set up at the city/county complex at J Street and Bailey Avenue. Spirits were high despite water from the sky as many expressions of Christmas cheer were exchanged.

With all that free food being passed around many families were able to stay at home on Christmas but 20 volunteers helped Set Free Church and Saint Vincent de Paul feed 300, including take-out meals, at Fr. Hanley Hall on Christmas day. A special surprise at the event was balloon sculptor, mime, juggler, dancer, actor and illusionist Michael Rovno who made up balloon animals for those attending.

Other contributors of food, gifts or both included the Needles Unified School District and Needles’ Colorado River Station of the San Bernardino County Sheriff Department.

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