La Joya Housing Authority board connects with tenants during turkey giveaway

LA JOYA — La Joya Housing Authority board members distributed turkeys to residents this week, taking a break from the turmoil surrounding the termination of their interim executive director earlier this month.

Additional items the housing authority gave low-rent program tenants were ready-to-bake rolls, cans of green beans and corn, and boxes of stuffing.

Giveaways were conducted Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon. The turkeys that were handed out on Tuesday were donated by La Joya school board trustee Alex Cantu, his wife Vicky Cantu, and Juan Jose “J.J.” Peña — also a La Joya school board trustee who was elected earlier this month the Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace.

The turkeys handed out on Wednesday were donated by state Rep. Oscar Longoria, D-Mission.

The event was organized by Sylvia Garces-Valdez, the board vice chair, who said she wanted to help residents whose children would be out on Thanksgiving break.

“Because I work in the district, I know the kids are going to be out for a whole week,” Garces-Valdez said, “so I know how much the financial stress it’s going to put on families.”

To put it all together, she said she reached out to political community members for donations.

“They were more than willing to donate,” Garces-Valdez said.

Some of the people she reached out to asked if they could give a monetary donation, which was met with a resounding negative.

“We didn’t want any monetary donations brought into, let’s say for example, our nonprofit or anything,” she said. “It was more of, the situation we’re under, the whole thing of what had happened with our previous executive director — we didn’t want that issue.”

A transaction list of expenses posted to their low rent program from Jan. 1 to Oct. 24 detailed questionable expenses, including ATM and cash withdrawals totaling more than $10,500. The attorney for former interim Executive Director Frances Salinas said the board had approved those transactions. The board, however, denied ever doing so.

The giveaway was a distraction from those troubles but also served as a way for the residents to form a connection with the board and with each other, according to Maricruz Sifuentes, the board chair.

“It’s for the tenants,” she said. “It’s a connection with the community, they pass (the turkeys) out themselves, with a little bit of help from us, but it’s an effort on their part to be a part of the housing authority.”

Garces-Valdez said she was shocked when one of the tenants asked if they were allowed to enter the board chamber within the administrative building of the housing authority.

“I told her, ‘Yes, this is your room, this is yours, this belongs to the community,’” she said. “We want the community to feel welcomed.”