Instead of exchanging holiday gifts this year, West Ranch High School cafeteria workers decided to pool together money, food and gifts for two local United States Marine Corps veterans.

“We decided that instead of doing Christmas presents that we would do something for a worthy cause,” said Koral Newman, West Ranch High School’s cafeteria manager.

Newman presented checks, food and dog treats to veteran Dominic Macaya and his service dog, Kyle, and veteran Fernando Sanchez and his wife, Tatiana Sanchez and their family Ivan Sanchez, 1, Isabella Gonzalez, 7, and Gerad Gonzales, 10, at Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall Wednesday.

West Ranch High School Cafeteria Manager Koral Newman, right, presents a check, snacks and dog treats to United Sates Marine Corps veteran Dominic Macaya and his service dog, Kyle at Veterans Historical Plaza in Newhall on Wednesday. Dan Watson/The Signal

“For a group of women to think about veterans during this time in particular when many veterans are struggling is the most thoughtful,” Macaya said. “To take action by actually giving veterans gifts is completely unexpected and humbling and touches my heart.”

Sanchez and his wife, Tatiana, shared similar sentiments about the actions of the seven West Ranch High School co-workers.

“We’re very thankful,” Sanchez said. “We’ve never been embraced in a community like this and you don’t always see this kind of hospitality to support veterans.”

This is the third year Newman and her six co-workers, Lora, Nora, Frances, Jean, Fabie and Ray, donated cash and food to a local cause instead of sharing gifts with each other; however, this is the first year the co-workers made the holiday donations to local veterans.

West Ranch High School cafeteria worker Karen Stawecki first had the idea of donating to veterans after reading a Dec. 11 Signal article about Sanchez receiving a new home from Habitat for Humanity in a community built for veterans at Center Pointe Parkway in Santa Clarita.

Stawecki reached out to The Signal to coordinate a donation to local veterans in need during the holiday season.

“Karen (Stawecki) saw the article and I was so moved by what she had read so I said, ‘let’s make this happen,’” said Bill Reynolds, the Signal’s director of veteran affairs.

The result was a heartwarming donation to two veterans right before the holidays kicked off.

“It’s that small town feeling where everyone looks out for each other and cares for each other,” Sanchez said.

Macaya said his heart was full of gratitude and love for what the West Ranch High School workers decided to do for him and Sanchez this year.

“It’s very timely and relevant in terms of what the true meaning of the holidays is,” Macaya said. “To think about others and veterans is such a powerful patriotic act and it’s very heartwarming. I’m touched deeply by their thoughts.”

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