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Martha Green, a Santa’s helper, puts holiday food on neighbor's tables

Martha Green

From left: The late Joe Furno, Martha Green and her grandson Austin Mason sort out donated canned goods in preparation for filling family gift boxes in 2015. The number of families served varies from year to year, from 12 to about 18.

Martha Green of Elgin has a big heart and an even bigger dedication to helping members of her community.

Due to her hard work and faithful service, the Sonoita community association known as Santa’s Helpers has been providing Christmas dinners for families in need since it was originally founded in 1992. But as Green is quick to point out, it is far from a one-person endeavor.

Margaret Carmichael, who many will remember as the owner of the famous racehorse Secretariat, came up with the idea and donated $1,000 to purchase turkeys for the first Christmas gift boxes. She enlisted the aid of local ranch foreman Pete Bidegain to carry out the project. Bidegain found families in need, held food drives and personally distributed the Christmas baskets himself.

A few years later, Joe Furno started helping him, and in 2006, Furno asked Green to come on board.

A Tucson native, Martha graduated from Pueblo High School and married Jim Green, who grew up in the San Rafael Valley where he attended the one-room Harshaw School. They lived for many years in Gilbert, where Jim worked at Motorola, before relocating to Elgin in the mid-1990s. The couple has been married for 56 years.

Martha Green is a dedicated volunteer for many groups including the Sonoita/Elgin Cowbelles, St. Therese’s Catholic Church in Patagonia, and the Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Association. But her passion and largest project by far is the Santa’s Helpers, which serves the Sonoita, Elgin and Patagonia area.

Each year, to begin the process, Green contacts the Elgin Elementary and Patagonia schools asking for names of possible families that would benefit from the gift of a food basket at Christmastime. She stresses that the families’ privacy is a primary concern. She is the only one who knows the names; the other volunteers work from another list which lists each family by number and includes how many adults and children are in each one, and whether they are boys or girls.

When her committee of helpers arrives to fill the boxes with food, they find the number on the box and look at the numbered list to see how much food and which children’s gifts to put in each box.

To further ensure anonymity for the families, Green and Tonya Hubbell, who has been helping her for more than 10 years, are the only ones allowed in the distribution room when the family members come to pick up their boxes. The distribution is usually held the last Saturday before Christmas.

The canned goods are donated by the Sonoita/Elgin Cowbelles, who bring items to their annual December Christmas luncheon, and the Elgin Elementary School, which holds a canned goods drive about three weeks before distribution day. Green picks up all the donations and takes them to the Sonoita Fairgrounds where a room is set aside to store them.

Last year, Roxann Valenzuela at Sky Island Diner put out a cash donation jar and the Copper Brothel Brewery had a donation box for canned goods. Individuals may also donate cash at the National Bank of Arizona, Sonoita branch. The bank tellers deposit the gift directly to the Santa’s Helpers account.

Cash donations are used to purchase everything besides the canned goods. Tina Letarte, owner of the Sonoita Mini Mart, gives Santa’s Helpers a discount on their order of bread, butter and milk, and she also sets out a donation box for canned goods.

Martha Green

Martha Green has been volunteering as a Santa’s Helper since 1996. She now heads up the program which provides families in need with boxes containing ham, sides and canned goods, as well as gifts for the children, at Christmastime.

For the past five years, Green has picked up the potatoes at Walmart in Nogales because they have given her the best discount on hams, which she purchases ahead of time and stores in the freezer at the fairgrounds.

The Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Association donates all the toys left over from their annual Childrens’ Christmas Party. The toys are wrapped and only identified by the age of the child and whether it is a boy or girl. Association board member Jim Rowley donated all the boxes used on distribution day. Green delivers any food and toys left over to the Nogales Crossroads Mission, who are always extremely grateful for the donation.

Green credits Furno for mentoring her on the intricacies of the program. The last few years before Furno passed away, he was in failing health, but never lost his love for the community and Santa’s Helpers.

“I would always call Joe and he’d come, and I’d have a chair for him so he could be included in the process,” Green said.

“The distribution day makes all the many hours of shopping, collecting and sorting worthwhile and gratifying. It’s a good feeling when you know how much it is appreciated,” she added.

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