LACON — During the cold winter nights, when a kerosene heater wasn’t enough to heat the dilapidated mobile home, Jane Ochoa and her three children slept together on a sofa bed to stay warm.
The family did not have inside plumbing, either. They lugged water from Jane’s mother’s place across the road and took showers in an old house down the road left to Jane when her father died.
Since her husband’s return to Mexico on April 28 to work on his visa, life has been more of a struggle for his wife and children.
But just before Thanksgiving, their plight became evident through comments one of the children made at Falkville High School. Word spread, and the entire community pulled together to give them one of their best Christmases ever, and hope for the future.
On Dec. 21, while the Quail Creek Inn of Hartselle gave the family free lodging, workers moved the old mobile home off the property and brought in a donated mobile home from Decatur.
The next morning, 35 to 50 community volunteers from all walks of life — plumbers, backhoe operators, electrical and water service officials, teachers, Falkville Town Council members, firefighters and policemen — swarmed the property and began refurbishing the mobile home.
That night, Jane and her children moved in to heat, running water, a donated washer and dryer and a new refrigerator — and more comfort than they had known in years.
Jane’s story as an adult began to unfold after she dropped out of Falkville High in the ninth grade and started to work. Her stint in the cafeteria at Wallace State Community College became the first of many jobs down the road, from catching chickens to working in restaurants.
She met her husband, Gustavo Ochoa, 48, through a niece, who is married to Gustavo’s brother.
“I didn’t know Gustavo was here illegally, and we married April 24, 1999,” said Jane, 44. “All this time, we’ve both been working for him to get a permanent visa.”
He worked catching chickens but no one would hire him after the clampdown on illegal immigration.
“I worked a day job and caught chickens at night to support us,” Jane said. “Gustavo stayed home with the kids. Both of us worked to pay off the acre of land we bought here.”
Jane cannot afford to travel to Mexico to visit him. She has never been to the country, and neither have their children, Ivy, 13, a seventh-grader at Falkville High, Maria, 11, a sixth-grader, and Lorenzo, 8, a second-grader at Falkville Elementary School.
“I like it here,” Lorenzo said of his new digs Saturday. “I like the stand-up shower, and it’s a lot warmer here.”
Ivy said while she was “pretty ecstatic” about the gift of the mobile home. “I thought I was going to have a room without my sister. She snores.”
Maria shot back. “Do you know how hard it is to keep a room clean with her there? Every two seconds, she’s changing clothes.”
On Saturday night, Hank Summerford, maintenance and transportation director for Morgan County Schools, dropped off a processed deer to the family.
“Christmas is about doing and about giving,” Summerford said. “It’s about us being God’s hands and feet. That’s what the whole community was for two days.”
Meantime, Jane patiently waits for her husband’s return.
“It would be icing on the cake for me and the children, for all of us, if their Papa was here,” she said. “I buy calling cards and talk to him. We break down during our phone conversations. It isn’t easy. But we’re just coping the best way we know how.”
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