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Joe and Lilian Salinas with their children, from right, Lily, 5; Angel, 13; Gigi, 14; and Lety, 12, outside their apartment in Salinas.

Joe Salinas named his business, Big Buddy's Moving, after the man who taught him the importance of hard work and helped him become a responsible adult.

As a child, with Grandpa Buddy's encouragement, Salinas started his own little landscaping business, mowing lawns and pulling weeds for the neighbors. He took out their trash, cleaned up their yards and did any other chores they didn't want to do themselves. Later, he got a paper route, a job that required not only seven-days-a-week delivery, but door-to-door sales and collections.

"You had to hustle out there," he remembers with a laugh. "I learned how to work by watching my grandfather, who managed Yoder Brothers in Chualar for more than 40 years, and always had little projects to do when he got home after work. He's the best man I've ever known, and he and my grandma are the angels in my life."

But responsibilities tend to get bigger with age. A few weeks ago, Salinas and his wife, Lilian, found themselves facing eviction after business began to dwindle at Big Buddy's Moving. A second income — Salinas is an artist who has helped muralist Dong Sun Kim for the past eight years — also evaporated when Kim was temporarily sidelined by illness.

Even before the checks stopped coming and their bank account dried up, Joe and Lilian were trying to make the best of a difficult situation. The couple, married in January, lived in a two-bedroom apartment in North Salinas with their seven children, ages 5 to 19, a brood they playfully call "The Brady Bunch.


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But suddenly, they were in serious danger of losing that roof over their heads.

Related: Christmas Cheer donations

"I waited until the day before our rent was due, hoping another deposit would come in, or one of the estimates I had done would come through, and I was stressed," Salinas says. "It felt really terrible to walk into the Salvation Army and ask for help — I felt like a failure as a man, and as a provider for my wife and seven kids — but I knew I had to do it. I couldn't risk being evicted."

He had dealt with the Salvation Army many times before, but always on behalf of some other needy family when he was working as a probation officer and for the Department of Mental Health. He knew the Salvation Army would help, but didn't expect the kind of help he got.

"I went there and explained my situation, but I guess I just figured they would probably direct me to some agency, or maybe somewhere that I could get a bag of food," he said. "When they gave us a check that covered our entire rent — $1,200 — I felt overwhelmed. I'm not a guy who cries very often, but I broke down right there, in front of everybody. It was such a relief."

His wife also felt humbled after weeks of worrying about feeding the big family and keeping a roof over their heads.

"My stress level was at 100. I was so thankful when they came through," she says. "Plan B was to move all of us in with my mother in El Centro."

The assistance of the Salvation Army's Operation Christmas Cheer program afforded them time to catch up on their bills and improve their situation. Lilian Salinas recently started a new job at a battered-women's shelter. Joe Salinas continues to run Big Buddy's Moving, where business seems to be picking up, and he expects to start a new job soon helping kids at a youth home in Prunedale. He also hopes to return to the Department of Mental Health as a full-time employee. And he and Kim are painting murals again.

On Saturday, the whole family moved out of their two-bedroom apartment and into a 112-year-old Victorian home — with eight bedrooms — near Oldtown Salinas. They had just recently seen it was up for rent.

"The kids are very excited about the new house because they're all going to get their own space," Lilian Salinas says. "Some of the girls will still be sharing bedrooms, but it's a lot better than having five of them in one room. They're always fighting in there."

She loves presiding over her big family and talks with pride about all of them. Angel, 13, is a budding actor and an ace at chess. Gigi, 14, loves basketball, and 12-year-old Lety is good at karate and volleyball. Mercedes, 19, and Anthony, 18, are in culinary school.

"My original goal was to have 12 kids. I'm adopted and always wanted a huge family — I love sitting down for a big family dinner," she says. "But seven kids ... I guess that'll do. I think when we get settled in our new house we might adopt a dog or two. Who knows ... maybe some chickens and goats, too."

Operation Christmas Cheer

Operation Christmas Cheer is sponsored by The Herald, the Salvation Army and 1st Capital Bank to help local families that find themselves in need this time of year.

The campaign has raised more than $2 million, which has been distributed to needy Monterey County families and individuals over the holidays.

The money helps families who have come to the Salvation Army for support. Applications are screened and contributions will go directly to assist Salvation Army clients on the Peninsula and in the Salinas Valley.

During the coming weeks, The Herald will profile several families needing help this year.

A special feature of the Operation Christmas Cheer campaign is that contributors can have a brief personalized holiday message published in the newspaper by using a coupon printed each day in The Herald or by printing it from The Herald's website, www.montereyherald.com.

Dennis Taylor can be reached at 646-4344 or dtaylor@montereyherald.com.