Family Continues Tradition of Giving Back to Community

The Laras were joined in their home on Friday, December 15th by local beauty queens and CES Principal Sue Carter as they gathered to appreciate the gifts collected for underprivileged children of the community. The Laras have been donating gifts in this fashion for 55 years. From left to right: Sue Carter, Grace H. (standing), Ava C., Brylea, Abigail M., Kaylin H., Barbara Lara, Jose Lara. (Photo by Lura Jackson)

By Lura Jackson


If you had a legacy of doing one thing for 55 years, what would you want that thing to be? For Barbara and Jose Lara, the answer is giving Christmas presents to underprivileged children in the community. Every year, the additional profits that come in from the Barbara’s International School of Dance Christmas dance recital go toward the purchase of hundreds of gifts for local children. 

“We’ve done this every year at Christmas,” Barbara explained. “It started with Mr. [Donnie] Sellars, one of the firemen, and the tradition has carried on ever since. We find it fun.”

For Jose, who grew up in Puerto Rico, the tradition takes on special meaning. When Jose was being raised, Puerto Rico was not a United States territory, and it did not celebrate Christmas. Instead, a holiday called Three Kings was honored in January. While there are some similarities between the two traditions, there are some notable differences as well, as Jose explained. “You would put grass in a box, and put it outside the window of your room. You would get an unwrapped gift in the morning.” 

Today, being able to participate in the American understanding of Christmas is a joy for Jose. “I just love it. I think it’s fantastic.”

“He’s really my inspiration,” said Barbara. “He’s just like a little kid, it’s so fun… I still get him toys for Christmas.”

The massive stack of presents compiled by the Laras for the season definitely stirred sensations of childhood longing in those in attendance at their home on Friday. “It’s super exciting to see all these toys,” said Sue Carter, principal of Calais Elementary School. “It makes me wish that I was a kid.”

Being able to share Christmas gifts with the community is an act deeply appreciated by those on the front lines of interaction with local children, Carter relayed. “We’ve had families call, asking for any available assistance with finding gifts for their children. We have given out hats and boots and mittens and coats already, so being able to fulfill this need as well makes us even happier.”

Carter and her faculty members will be distributing the gifts to children that have been identified by the school or by their parents as having less resources than most. Last year, the Calais Police Department supplied Roliza DeWitt to help with the deliveries of the gifts.