A Phoenix Fire Department truck pulled around the back of a Valley apartment complex Tuesday afternoon. Out popped The Gorilla, two Suns dancers and the crew of firefighters, carrying at least two dozen wrapped presents.
The nine Cisneroz children poured from the front balcony of the second-floor unit down the stairs, joyfully swarming their holiday haul.
It was a dramatic change from a few weeks ago, when Bobby and Rosa’s family were unsure where they would sleep the following night. After they were evicted over the Thanksgiving holiday, Suns Charities, guard Cameron Payne and United Phoenix Firefighters Charities teamed up to secure the family with a new place to live — and make their Christmas a little brighter.
“It was breathtaking watching my kids react and smile,” Bobby said. “ … There’s nothing more to ask for than a home, and blessed and smiling and happy kids. Through everything that’s gone on, the COVID and all the hard times, for all this to come out through it at the end of the year, it’s a blessing.”
United Phoenix Firefighter Charities first connected with the Cisneroz family during their annual Thanksgiving outreach for underprivileged children.
Bobby acknowledges he and Rosa grew up in “not-too-good backgrounds” in Phoenix, and that he made some poor decisions in the past. But he has recently been working a steady job in HVAC, clocking in for early mornings, long hours and weekends while Rosa cares for their nine children ranging from ages 2 to 18.
Over Thanksgiving, they all were staying with a family friend in an apartment, and were part of the fire department’s route to deliver food and gift cards. A local television station tagged along with the firefighters and, after the segment aired, word got back to the apartment manager. Since the Cisneroz family members were not listed as occupants on the lease, they and their friends were evicted immediately.
“Everything happening so fast, that we (had) to get out,” Rosa said. “It was hard and emotional, but we have to stay strong for the kids, so they don’t see us like we’re falling apart.”
Added Ramon Gonzalez, who is on the board of directors of United Phoenix Firefighters Charities: “(I was) torn apart. How can somebody be so heartless and not be able to help out, not only one or two kids, but nine kids? We were a little defeated, but we put our heads together.”
Plotting that plan included reaching out to Sarah Krahenbuhl, the Vice President of Social Responsibility and Executive Director of Phoenix Suns Charities. The two organizations have a longstanding relationship, including when the Suns directly helped fund COVID-19 antibody testing for local firefighters.
The Cisneroz family’s situation eventually reached Payne, who is new to Phoenix and had expressed interest in getting involved in the local community. Payne “automatically said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it,’” offering to pay a month of rent — matching what United Phoenix Firefighters Charities could provide — and for the children’s Christmas gifts. Payne also hopes to maintain a relationship with the family and invite them to a game when it is safe to gather again.
“I’m from down South, (so) I’m all about giving and just having hospitality,” Payne said. “I feel like this family just needed some hospitality, and I’m glad I was the guy who was able to help and able to turn their frowns upside down. …
“I definitely want to meet them face to face and, honestly man, give those guys a hug and just let them know that there’s people in this world that actually are there to help.”
Gonzalez and Bobby spent about two weeks searching for an apartment that would be close to work and at a rent rate the family could afford and sustain following those initial two months. Gonzalez called the process “eye-opening” because of “all the hoops” some underprivileged families must jump through just to submit an apartment application.
But the Cisneroz family moved into their new place in West Phoenix last week, with Bobby saying it feels like “when you wake up and you’re able to just stretch out and (be relieved).”
Added Gonzalez: “I feel very content, very happy, knowing that this family is going to have the opportunity to have a better Christmas than they expected in a place where they can be warm, in a place where they can lock the door, where they can call it home, where they can sleep.”
Payne, meanwhile, tackled the children’s Christmas list with the help of his family. He joined the Cisneroz family via video chat Tuesday, with Krahenbuhl carrying an open laptop around as Payne watched the children rip off the wrapping paper.
After 16-year-old Adrian opened a Nintendo Switch, he exclaimed “I want to cry.” Sisters Mariah and Serenity screamed while marveling at a giant dollhouse. Firefighters lifted two bikes off the top of the truck. The whole family received a basketball signed by Payne.
“They got those smiling faces,” Payne said, “and that’s what we wanted at the end of the day.”
And as the children ran back upstairs with their gifts, Bobby turned to the computer and told Payne, “You’re the best! Thank you!”
“I’m at a loss for words. So is my wife,” Bobby said. “You see everybody always on TV getting help. We never thought help would come to us, from where we’re from and how we grew up.
“We’re just thankful that people still take the time to see that good people fall on hard times.”