When restaurant owner Nitza Rubenstein met some of the families new to the community and spending their first winter in Flandreau, she wanted to help them be more prepared for the cold weather.

Last Friday, they gathered for a party at Fajita’s Bar & Grill that included cookies and other treats, a pair of boots for all children, winter coats, a toy and a chance to talk to Santa Claus in their native Spanish. Rubenstein’s elves were professors from the Department of Modern Languages and Global Studies at South Dakota State University. Two of the teachers also spoke Spanish and could talk with the families who are largely from El Salvador and are working on area farms.

This is the first time the families have experienced winter.

“I know for some, it is going to be the first Christmas they are going to get a present,” Rubenstein said.

The professors, their students and others in the Brookings community donated about 25 new pairs of boots, gently used adult and children’s coats and a table of previously-owned toys that included Barbie cars, farm toys, small cars and a large plastic airplane. Each child got to pick one toy.

Rubenstein fed them cookies, crackers and cheese, suckers, apples, chocolate milk and juice pouches. She also led the group in a cheery rendition of “Feliz Navidad.”

The party was also a kickoff of sorts for English classes for adults in the group who will gather at the restaurant one evening this week and in future weeks to learn the new language from an SDSU student in the language and global studies program as their teacher.

“I’m so excited, so happy,” Rubenstein said.

Reaching out to a culture in a community close to Brookings is helpful to students, too, said Christi Garst-Santos, department chair. Many of the students are preparing to teach English as a second language in schools when they graduate.

“It is what we do. We teach language and culture,” she said. “Our mission is to … produce graduates that know how to communicate as global citizens.”

Rubenstein, who opened Fajitas in April, said she remembers being very poor at Christmas when she was little, but it also was a very happy and innocent time. Sometimes a branch with glue and glitter was transformed into the family Christmas tree.“We were so happy with that,” she said. “We were so poor, we hardly had something to eat at Christmas.”

Friday, she was all smiles as this year’s Christmas wishes for others came true.

By: Brenda Wade Schmidt, Moody County Enterprise

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