, Port Arthur, Texas

December 2, 2013

Families passing on passion of giving

Cody Edgerton
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — Thanksgiving for Carmen Puente and family is all about looking back and remembering where she came from, being appreciative for what her family now has, and for those who helped them make it so far.

That’s why, this year, the family decided to “pay it forward.”

This week, Puente and her family joined Pearlanna Carron and her siblings — the family of the late humanitarian Exie Simon —  to prepare and serve the yearly Thanksgiving meal for the needy, in Simon’s honor.

Puente, along with her mother, father, two brothers and three sisters, worked all day Saturday preparing a massive meal to feed those in need. They then came together Tuesday to serve up a healthy heaping of Thanksgiving goodies with a side of caring and love. The reason behind the feast is the story of Simon’s “vision from God” — about her catching a contagious “fever” for helping those who need it the most.

Simon was locally and nationally recognized for her efforts to feed the hungry and meet the needs of those facing tough times. She received awards from the Evening Sertoma Club, NAACP, PACE of New York and was given the key to Port Arthur. She was also praised by Congressman Jack Brooks, receiving a plaque to commemorate all she had done for the community.

And that’s where Puente’s family comes in. Flash back more than 25 years ago, when Puente’s parents had just arrived in Port Arthur with a 1-year-old Carmen. They lived only a short distance from Simon.

The family put down roots. Puente’s father had a nice stable job. Then, without warning, their world changed.

“Dad had his arm crushed, and Mom was working at BJ’s Grocery for minimum wage,” Puente said. “She had six kids. We struggled.”

When they needed it most, Simon would show up with food or a way to help.

“She was like an angel,” Puente said. “It’s like she just knew.”

It is this gift of assistance, a blessing counted to this day, that drives Puente to always try and do what she can to help the needy.

Puente told a story of a dad and his little girl asking for food at a McDonald’s. She had to help by going inside and buying them a meal. Her husband and son were there to see Puente set the precedent that helping those in need is a necessity.

Puente said she thinks that those who have never been without can’t truly understand what it feels like to have someone treat them with the caring and compassion that Simon did for her family during those difficult days.

“I want people to know you can pay it forward and it’s so refreshing,” Puente said. “She managed to feed people even when she was very sick. It sets an example.”

Puente’s brother took a break from filling trays on Tuesday to talk about the influence Simon had on him and his family.

“She was simply amazing, a third grandmother for my family,” Jesus “Jesse” Puente, Jr. said. For Jesse, who fended off cancer recently and had his friends and family step forward to help him through his fight, the need to give back is more than simply a desire — it’s a requirement.

“So many people helped me through that benefit,” Jesse said. “It’s time to give back.”

Seeing such feelings that originally emanated from Simon moving forward is something that is very touching for Carron.

“All we ever saw in my house was (Exie) trying to help,” Carron said. “She instilled it in us daily to always help each other.”

Carron said she feels that feeding the hungry and trying to help the needy is not an option. It is simply ingrained in her — a genetic disposition passed down from her mother.

She is familiar with what it is like to grow up in a hard situation. Her mother had 10 children, and her stepfather brought six more to the home. And though they didn’t have much, her mom always managed to provide for others.

“That’s just how Mom was — if you didn’t have something you could share with someone else, then you didn’t have anything.” Carron said, emotionally recalling the love Simon had for everyone, not just her family.

The family has been serving the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals officially since 1981, but Carron can remember her mom giving food out of her kitchen much earlier than that. Triangle Community Outreach also has an after-school program and a summer feeding program for children.

Anyone interested in helping can call Carron at (409) 332-8877.

Carron and Puente both feel that helping your community and those in need should be something in your heart, passed on from generation to generation, as it was to them from Simon.

“We should always remember where we came from, not be embarrassed,” Puente said.

Twitter: @cedgerton13