Johnny Gonzales, at right, invites patients and visitors to the Southeastern New Mexico Kidney Center in Roswell to take home free food on Valentine’s Day. Gonzales was there Thursday and Friday giving out balloons, flowers and stuffed toys as well as food to dialysis patients. (Randal Seyler Photo)
The small cluster of stuffed bears, puppies and imitation roses might not seem like much at first glance.
But for Johnny Gonzales, the toys and flowers mean one thing — hope.
Gonzales spread Valentine’s Day cheer Friday at the Southeastern New Mexico Kidney Center in Roswell.
Patients and family members stopped to greet Gonzales, and he received and gave hugs to passersby and prayed with patients who stopped to visit with him and pray with him.
“I see the needs of people’s hearts,” Gonzales, 65, said as he and volunteers handed out toys and food to patients coming and going from dialysis at the clinic. “I am a Christian, and I am spreading the word of the Lord, but I am also trying to reach people where they are at.”
“I was here yesterday and will be back this afternoon for the second shift,” Gonzales said. “Tomorrow, I will visit shut-ins and take them balloons and toys.”
At the clinic, Gonzales said there are several senior citizens who had no family, and for them the toys and balloons he gave out were the only reminders of happier times many of them would receive this holiday.
“I had one 85-year-old lady yesterday, and Valentine’s Day is also her birthday, and the 10th anniversary of her husband’s passing,” Gonzales said. “She said she hadn’t gotten a valentine since her husband had passed. It’s little things like this that help people and give them hope.”
Gonzales said he understands the pain of dialysis all too well. For five years, he was a patient at the clinic, until he received his kidney transplant two years ago.
“There are people dying here every week, and many people who need transplants don’t get them in time,” Gonzales said. “The main thing is for people to have hope, and keep hoping.”
Today, Gonzales plans to be at the clinic again at 9 a.m. preparing to deliver Valentine’s Day cheer to dialysis patients who are not able to get out. He would like to have more balloons to deliver, and said volunteers and donations are welcome. Anyone who would like to help with today’s deliveries or make a donation can stop by the clinic this morning.
“God has got a special spot in his heart for Johnny Gonzales,” said Crystal Chaves, an administrative assistant at the clinic. She stopped by to thank Gonzales for his work with the dialysis patients.
“We had one elderly blind lady yesterday who wouldn’t let go of her toy puppy, she held on to it during her treatment,” Chaves said. “What Johnny does makes such a difference, he makes these people so happy.”
Chaves said she had brought her mother to the clinic for several years until her mother’s passing last September, and during those visits, she met Gonzales.
“God bless you for doing this,” she told Gonzales. “You are making people smile, and what you’re doing is huge.”
Chaves said the clinic has more than 100 patients who seek dialysis treatments three times a week, and there are two shifts of treatment each day, Monday through Saturday.
A need Gonzales sees at the clinic is a liaison program to help people fill out the paperwork needed to qualify for a kidney transplant.
“A lot of our people are eligible for transplants, and the government will even pay for it, but they can’t fill out the paperwork,” Gonzales said. “We need a program where we can help people fill out the paperwork, whether they have problems reading English or Spanish, we need to be able to help them apply for these programs.”
“We want to love people with things, not for things,” Gonzales said. “We don’t want to give just to be seen, or to bring publicity to our club or organization. We want to love people.”
Gonzales is already planning his Easter celebration in the park, where he plans on having an Easter egg hunt and breakfast for the public. “We want to have 1,000 eggs to hide and baskets for the kids, and 1,000 eggs to cook.”
Many of the seniors Gonzales ministers to have said they would rather have something to eat than hunt Easter eggs, and some of the children who will come to the event may also be hungry. “We can cook up some good breakfasts with those eggs as well as hunt them.”
Volunteers and donations of eggs and baskets are welcome, Gonzales said. The event will be held in a city park to accommodate the large crowd.
“He’s so great, he’s just amazing,” Chaves says of Gonzales. “Something so little like that toy puppy can make such a difference; he is really touching people’s lives.”