Marcela Sánchez has four children who were all still sleeping at 8 a.m. on Christmas morning. But unlike other children in Carpentersville who woke up assuming Santa was already back at the North Pole, Sánchez's children woke up with news that Santa had just arrived -- on a fire truck.
Carpentersville firefighters teamed up for the second year in a row to bring a merrier Christmas to two low-income local families. Union members in International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4790 pooled more than $600 to buy gifts and deliver them to Sánchez's children as well as three of Matty Ramón's kids.
"To me, this Christmas, they are saviors," Sánchez said.
Sánchez wasn't going to have any gifts for her children this year. Her husband was recently arrested by immigration officials, stripping the family of its sole breadwinner.
But on Christmas morning, as Sánchez looked around at discarded wrapping paper all over the floor and the shining eyes of her children, she was speechless.
"I was surprised, emotional, happy," Sánchez said. "I just had no words. I didn't know what to say.
"They really helped me."
Ramón had similarly muted plans for gift-giving this Christmas. When she found out the firefighters would be stepping in, she asked her three youngest kids -- 16, 15 and 13 years old -- to write a wish list for Santa.
They ended up getting most of the things they wanted, including a bicycle and a Monopoly game for the youngest, skinny jeans and a sketch pad for the 15-year-old and dress shoes for the oldest son.
"If it weren't for them, my kids would not have gotten a Christmas," Ramón said. "I'm very, very thankful."
Carpentersville firefighters Tony Ferreiro and Brian Simpson organized the Christmas surprises.
Ferreiro said the two families were recommended by District 300. St. Monica's Catholic Church also pitched in and donated a gift for each of the seven children.
"A lot of us have a lot," Ferreiro said. "When you realize how much people don't have, you want to make sure that they can have a good Christmas too."
Both Sánchez and Ramón are looking toward next year when they hope to be in a position to pass along such kindness to other families.
It's like karma, Sánchez said.
"This year something good happened to me."