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Lydia Gamboa

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Raised in a Catholic family with four sisters and two brothers, Lydia Gamboa grew up watching her parents help others. In the Pinedo household, charity wasn’t an
intangible concept, but rather, a way a life.

“During the early 60s…people would come knocking at the door for food or work, and my dad would always help by giving them a nice meal or finding some work around the house for them to do,” recalls Lydia. “My mom would go to Church, the market or the mall, meet someone that needed a little extra help and then bring them to our house. To us, they were just friends of the family.”

Growing up in that spirit of compassion, Gamboa developed an innate desire to help the less fortunate. Her ability to reach out to those in need is integral in her work as Director of the Mission Office, as well as in her philanthropic role with the Adopt-A-Family Program. Lydia attributes her passion for service to her upbringing: “I think the family values instilled in me have much to do with what I do now.”

Lydia, who resides in Pico Rivera, is a member of St. Hilary Parish along with her husband, Mike.

Throughout the years, Lydia has been very active in her parish and in her son’s schools, participating on various committees at San Antonio De Padua Parish and School, Maryknoll School, Bishop Montgomery High School, and St. Joseph’s Parish where she served as a member of the Finance Committee and Co-Chair of their Annual Fiesta. In what little free time she has, Lydia also volunteers for various departments of the Archdiocesan Catholic Center. “I feel it’s important to reach out within your community, whether it be your family, parish, school or work community.”

After working her day job, Lydia switches into volunteer mode with the Adopt-A-Family Program, a nonprofit effort that has brought Christmas to the homes of many inner-city families for the past 25 years.

Her Adopt-A-Family outreach efforts include spending time with the families, attracting and retaining donors, working with corporations and public officials, and overseeing a complex volunteer distribution and delivery system. For her, the reward is watching the smiles of those giving and receiving.

“When I meet these families there’s an immediate love and respect. There is a connection,” she said. “These families work hard to make sure their children are in the best public schools and that they have food on the table. I can’t imagine being a parent and knowing that your child needs something and you can’t provide it. They are just like me – they want the best for their children.”

Lydia’s introduction to the Adopt-A-Family program came about some twenty-four years ago. She met Monsignor Fleming, Rector of St. Vibiana Cathedral and Director of the Adopt-A-Family Program, while working on the 1986 visit of Pope John Paul II to Los Angeles. Little did she know that she would soon be working alongside him with the Adopt-A-Family outreach. As Lydia recalls, “My husband and I went down with our son to volunteer, and we immediately fell in love with the program.” She came back the following year to wrap gifts, sort food donations and help deliver gifts to families. Recognizing how enamored of the program Lydia and her family were, Monsignor Fleming asked if she would assist with developing and maintaining a database of the families and donors. As Lydia sums it up, “The rest, as they say, is history. Over these past 24 years I have been deeply moved and inspired. I have met truly amazing families, and had the opportunity to work alongside generous volunteers and donors who give so much of themselves.”

In addition to the volunteers, Lydia is grateful for the opportunity to connect personally with the families served by the Adopt-A-Family program. “Over the years, I have gone to birthday parties in apartment hallways, a quinceñera in an alley, received phone calls when a family needs a bit of help, or a call from an older child giving me the good news they were accepted into college.” She calls these her “God moments.”

Lydia says that when the Adopt-A-Family interview process starts in August, it feels like a homecoming. “When I walk into an apartment building on Skid Row, the children are always there to greet me shouting: ‘hay viene la señora con las canastas’ (Here comes the lady with the Christmas baskets.). Then delivery day comes around, and it becomes truly magical. When you see the happiness that shines in the faces of the over two thousand children that we serve – it is truly an amazing transformation. That’s why we call it a “Magical Christmas.”

Lydia understands the power of connection. “My parents provided us with a strong faith-filled home. When we moved to Hawthorne in 1956, we became part of St. Joseph Parish. All of us children received our religious education and our Sacraments there. Three of us were married there. We will always consider St. Joseph’s our spiritual home. While my parents knew the importance of a good education, they also understood that a faith foundation balances your life.”

“I am beyond blessed with the love of my family who have all embraced the Adopt-A-Family Program. All 37 members of my immediate family participate on delivery day. They have mentioned numerous times that this is the start of our family holiday tradition.”

That bond of faith and family with which Lydia has been blessed has been passed on to her own son, Michael, who together with her husband are extremely proud of
her recognition.

Lydia is humbled and thrilled to receive this award. She does so knowing that the light that shines on her, shines on many who work by her side each day for the benefit
of others.