By Dolores Cullen, The Storm Lake Times
She’s the queen of Upper Des Moines Opportunity in Storm Lake, and her crown is a reindeer-antler headband.
Seven years ago when Joan Spooner retired from the lead position at the agency, people wondered if anyone could possibly fill the role of chief caretaker of Buena Vista County’s population in need.
Maggie Reyes stepped up, with her own style. She’s attracted an army of volunteers, which she praises lavishly. They appear in selfies with her. She calls them “My beautiful” and “BFF.”
Each Christmas season she directs the Adopt-a-Family program and this year 200 families and disabled individuals and 50 seniors are being served. Their eligibility is based on income.
On Monday, UDMO was a hive of activity, a blur of presents coming in, that will be picked up over the next few days by grateful recipients.
For all that deliver the wrapped packages, Maggie has hugs, selfies, compliments and “I love you.”
“She does amazing every year,” said Ashley Ronk, dropping off presents. She turned to Maggie: “You wear lots of hats!”
“We would be lost without Maggie,” said Alisa Schlief, Maggie’s boss, family and community service director for the six-county area Buena Vista belongs to.
Alisa spent Monday at the Storm Lake office to assist with deliveries. “The generosity of this community is amazing,” said Alisa. “Not every county is this lucky.”
A trailer full of bikes arrived Monday courtesy of Bikes for Tykes, based in Fort Dodge. Volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints helped unload them.
Maggie was born in 1977 in Chicago. In 1986 her parents, who had come from Mexico, were granted citizenship thanks to an amnesty program instituted by then President Ronald Reagan.
The family returned to Mexico and her dad started his own construction business. Maggie was nine at the time.
At age 24 she came back to the U.S. following her own dreams. “He told me to love and respect this beautiful country,” she remembers.
And Maggie says she’s living her dream job at UDMO. She’s with the most vulnerable as they struggle to afford even the basics. She knows over a dozen local people who succumbed to the pandemic.
She’s also seen the joy experienced by those served by her agency. Regarding the seniors she put on the Adopt-a-Family list: “They didn’t want to apply, but they don’t have family. I wanted them to have gifts for a beautiful Christmas.”
And, “They don’t believe there are strangers who will give us gifts.”
Pastor Ryan Brandenberger brings in gifts his church has carefully selected, bought and wrapped for three families. Maggie calls them beautiful and she stacks them in a storage room, ready for pickup.
How many times did she say the word beautiful in just this one day?
“I learned a lot about helping other people,” Ryan said, “from Maggie.”