BASTROP, Texas (KXAN) — With his “Vato Claus” embroidered fedora, Locs sunglasses and a packed Chevrolet Silverado truck with wrapped Christmas gifts, Roland Nava is getting ready to make his rounds around Bastrop.
Since 2013, every year in December, the Bastrop pastor of I.T. H.U.H. Ministry transforms into Vato Claus.
“Vato is slang for buddy or guy,” Nava explained.
This year, Nava has received three times the number of calls from families for Vato Claus all asking for help.
“They’re not able to buy gifts for the children or much less have a Christmas, there are a lot of families that have called who need assistance because of COVID,” Nava said.
It’s not just the gifts Nava needs help with. Year-round, he offers shelter to those in need, and he has seen the need grow there, too. He said currently they have a waiting list which has doubled since last year. Nava believes that’s due to the pandemic. And, the need for help is evident as Nava’s phone continued to ring and ding all day.
“I lost everything after Hurricane Harvey,” Julie White said holding back tears.
White is one of about a dozen families staying at one of Nava’s mini-houses located on the church’s property. Church donations and partnerships with local organizations help Nava build and transform these 12 by 16 sheds into homes.
“Since March, we have seen an increase come in of those seeking housing and it’s just going up higher,” he said.
White first arrived in 2017 and stayed for a couple of months. She left with her daughters after she found a job and got an apartment but White said that was a bad move. She ended up turning to Pastor Nava for help a second time and now she lives in one of the homes and works for the church as a cook for its Open Door Soup Kitchen.
“I am so happy right now; I go to sleep and I don’t wake up with a knot in my stomach,” White said smiling.
Nava wants to help others like White. He has plans to expand the shelter operation. He wants to buy the five acres behind his current property and continue to build mini-homes to provide for his neighbors in need of refuge.
“It makes us feel good when people come and ask for help and we can help them,” Nava said.
This year, the Bastrop County Sheriff’s Brown Santa raised $4,000, close to 1,000 toys and 100 coats. Monday, they‘ll donate some of those items to a church in Smithville and to Pastor Nava to help him with Vato Claus operations. The department was also able to help 30 kids.