A delayed cabinet door order and a 29-cent Bic pen played a part in the creation of one of the most active charities in Puerto Peñasco.
In October of 1982, John Fowler was in El Paso, Texas to pick up an order of cabinet doors from Joe Anacleto’s business, but the order was delayed by several days.
Fowler explained, “A gal at the company said, ‘Why don’t you go to Poor Man’s Paradise and spend the weekend.’ I came to Peñasco, fell in love with the place, went back to Denver, sold my business and came back to Peñasco.”
He and Joe later became partners in JJ’s Cantina. “I never intended to be in business, but I was tired of warm beer,” Fowler explained. “I decided if I can buy this bar, I can keep the beer cold. I have been here ever since.”
When Christmas rolled around in 1983, the seeds for the Santa Claus Club were planted. “Agustin Leon came to me and said, let’s have a Christmas party for the children in Cholla. We had 40 children that first year and for the past 33 years it has grown. We gave gifts to 12,000 children last year.”
The first Cholla youngster in line that first year was Nikki Corrales who remembers the party very well. “When you are a kid you want to get the goodies, but they also had a TV with Christmas cartoons. Those were my favorite thing. It was surprising because no one had ever done anything that nice for the local kids.”
Fowler vividly remembers his most touching moment from all these 33 years. “We were doing a Christmas party on the back porch or JJs. A little guy, maybe 5 or 6 years old was holding something in his hands, right up in under his chin. He told one of the workers, ‘I want to see John.’ They said, he’s busy, but he insisted. They came and got me and said he’s not going until he talks to you. I went over and said What’s the problem?
“He had a Bic pen in his hand. His dad had weaved “Cantina JJs” around it, the way they do with name bracelets. I was struck. When people ask me why I do this, I say, for a 29-cent Bic pen. I kept it on my desk and whenever I felt discouraged, I’d pick it up and remind myself why it’s worth the work.”
The Cholla Kids Christmas party still happens and the Santa Claus club takes gifts and cookies to thousands of children in the poorest areas of Peñasco every year on Christmas morning; but the giving is year-round.
Fowler accepts donations from people in the Arizona and in Peñasco throughout the year. Every weekend he brings a truck load of food, clothing, bedding, and other essentials to the barrios.
“These people are extremely impoverished but extremely happy. They believe in family and try to keep the family unit together. I try to provide some resources: food, toys, bikes, school supplies. Three thousand kids will receive school supplies from the Santa Claus Club this year,” Fowler said.
John said his greatest reward is the smiles on the faces of the people, the children. “I got here in 1982 and fell in love with these people. Growing up in poor Mississippi, I could understand and respect the position they are in. They come up and hug you with ear-to-ear smiles when you give them a little bit of nothing. They are happy to have whatever you give them. It makes you feel great.”
Fund raising goes on year-round through a variety of events. In October alone, the Santa Claus Club will hold a Golf Tournament on the 15th, an Over-the-Line Softball Tournament on the 22nd and a first-year, three-day Cornhole Tournament Oct. 28, 29 and 30 – with the help of Tammy and Bill Hicks, strong supporters of the Santa Claus Club.
Those who want more information about the Club can go to www.santaclausclub.org.
Santa Claus Club founder John Fowler displays two of the 20 custom Cornhole boards that were made by Neil Mellon for the Oct. 28-30 tournament. Sponsorship of the boards sold out in a week but bumper-sticker space on the back of the boards is still available for $10.
SIDEBAR – CORNHOLE TOURNAMENT STORY
The bag-toss game known as Cornhole, Bags, Baggo, Doghouse and other monikers is challenging horseshoes as the most popular yard game in the country. It can be played by all ages, requires less physical strength, but the same skill and coordination as horseshoes.
The Santa Claus Club is planning a three-day Cornhole tournament on Oct. 28, 29 and 30 to raise funds for the less fortunate in Puerto Peñasco.
On Friday, the competition begins at 6 p.m. at the Baja Hotel near Manny’s Beach Club on El Mirador Beach. Buy-in will be $10 and the club will pay out 50 percent of the proceeds to the top three teams.
On Saturday, a double-elimination tournament will be held by the game room next to JJ’s Cantina. Competition begins at 9 a.m., on 10 courts with two teams per court. Prize money will be paid to the top six teams. All remaining proceeds will benefit the children of Peñasco through the work of the Santa Claus Club.
Entry fee for the Saturday tournament is $20 per person in advance, or $25 that day. A raffle of prizes and gift certificates from Arizona and Mexico companies for merchandise, services and adventures will take place throughout the day. Tickets are 6 for $10 or $2 each and can be purchased on site or ahead of time. Those who can’t be here but want to participate in the raffle can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets.
To assure a place in the tournament, players can register early by signing up at JJ’s Cantina or by sending the team names, e-mail addresses, phone numbers and $20 per person to: Santa Claus Club, P.O. Box 5, Lukeville, AZ 85341. A receipt will be sent by e-mail with the team number. Bring that receipt to the registration area on tournament day.
For players who want one more shot at the prize money and bragging rights, the competition moves back to the Baja Hotel on Sunday for a 10 a.m. start and 50 percent payout to the top three teams. Buy-in will again be $10 per person.
For information about the Cornhole Tournament, or the Santa Claus Club send an e-mail to: email@example.com or visit the website www.santaclausclub.org.