CLINTON - Jose Francisco Villalobos understands what it's like to choose between food and medicine for his family, but things are tighter than usual this holiday because his family took in four hurricane survivors.
A Clinton church is helping the construction worker stretch the family's resources to put food on the table and gifts under the tree for five children now living in the household. Members of St. John's Catholic Church donated clothing, food vouchers and gifts that were recently delivered to Villalobos.
He brings home paychecks when the weather is suitable for outside work, but he and his wife, Christina, still struggle to make ends meet with their two children.
Then in November, the couple received word from Christina's sister, Maria Vega, that she and her three children needed help.
"They lost everything they had. For Maria, it's very painful because she also lost her husband," said Villalobos. Villalobos' brother-in-law was swept away in Hurricane Katrina as he tried to locate materials to secure the family's mobile home in Louisiana.
The hurricane survivors relocated to Florida - then they were hit by Hurricane Wilma. "They were making it and then the second storm hit. They got it again," he said.
"Maria called my wife and said, 'It seems like everything is against me. I'm very depressed,'" Villalobos recalled.
When family members met Vega in St. Louis, they were shocked at her deteriorated physical condition, including a severe weight loss. "My sister didn't recognize her. She was in terrible condition. We help her as far as we can. She's better now, and the kids are, too," said Villalobos.
For the Rev. Don Rozkowski, pastor at St. John's, the parish effort to help the Villalobos family is part of the congregation's mission.
"We are called in Scripture to take care of those in need. We have to make that heroic effort for those who need help the most," said Rozkowski.
The church's Outreach Fund has provided help to Villalobos and many others with food, medicine, rent assistance and furniture collected from local donors. It's a rare week when a person in need doesn't ring the doorbell at St. John's rectory.
"Mostly, they need food or a warm place to stay that night because of circumstances that have put them out of their home," said Rozkowski.
Ed Wollet is a retired teacher who contributes regularly to the church's Outreach Fund.
"The fund is important because the poor have nothing and the rich have everything. We live in a community where we have families who put their kids three to a mattress at night," said Wollet.
Recognizing those less fortunate in the community goes beyond the work of one church or organization, said Wollet.
"God doesn't know whether you're Catholic, Jewish, Christian or atheist. Those are choices people make. Reaching out to people is the choice God wants us to make," said Wollet.