As Mirna Salvador moved along a table of donated clothes at the Rome Civic Center on Saturday, she expressed a sentiment of togetherness with other Hispanic families celebrating Three Kings Day.
“I’m happy to share with my family, not by blood, but family,” she said, referring to all those invited to attend an event aimed at giving back to area Hispanic families in need.
Over 125 people filled the Civic Center with dancing, food, pinata smashing and laughter as part of the event organized by Janet Baltzer.
“It’s just a gift to the community,” she said. “In this time of uncertainty it’s important to respect all cultures and religions. People who don’t explore that are missing something.”
Baltzer coordinates with area school counselors and ESOL teachers to select Hispanic families who need a little extra help, sending invitations for them to come and receive free food, toys and clothes.
The event isn’t only about giving back but embracing Hispanic culture, as well.
“It’s a good way to connect with Hispanic families in the area,” said Rome High student Leah Harrison, 17, who volunteered along with others in the Health Occupations Students of America club.
Saturday marked the 22nd year of the celebration, Baltzer said. However, the event didn’t originally start in honor of the holiday — widely celebrated in Latin America — commemorating the arrival of the Three Kings in the Nativity story, she added.
When it began, Baltzer said, it was a small gathering of 25 Hispanics celebrating Christmas, but over time grew in size, at times numbering 300 people or more, representing 11 different Latin American countries.
Much of the items given to families are donated from the community, including food and pinatas from La Mexicana and pastries from Panera Bread, Kroger and Publix.
Baltzer said it filled her with joy to see the community support the event.
Night Editor Spencer Lahr contributed to this report.