For acting couple Carlos and Alexa PenaVega and their family, charitable giving is both a Christmas tradition and a reflection of their Christian faith.
“Everything we do is centered around our faith,” the 32-year-old “Spy Kids” actress told The Christian Post. “Our faith is everything. From our parenting to the programs we work with, it always comes down to: ‘Does this represent what we believe and our faith?’”
This holiday season, the PenaVegas, along with their two young sons, Ocean and Kingston, partnered with The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program to buy gifts for underprivileged children.
“We went to Walmart as a family, and Ocean pulled names off the tree, and then we went shopping together and picked out toys for different kids,” Alexa recalled. “Then at the very end, he went and put money in the kettle. It was so fun for us as a family and also a great way for parents to start introducing their kids to what giving means, especially over the holiday season.”
“Like us, everything The Salvation Army does is really centered around faith,” she continued. “So much of their dollar goes toward helping people, helping kids. It’s very rare nowadays to find charities that you can really trust, and The Salvation Army is absolutely trustworthy.”
“Having kids changes a lot for people,” Carlos, who grew up participating in The Salvation Army's charitable events, added. “When you have your own kids, seeing a child in need of help takes on a whole new meaning. You really see the value and need for them to be loved, nurtured and fed. It’s a whole different ballgame.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns, the need for charitable giving is greater than ever. Alexa explained that with the increase of store closures and fewer shoppers at retail locations, The Salvation Army expects to see up to a 50% decrease in funds raised through the red kettles.
For the first time in 130 years, the red kettle campaign began in September in an attempt to overcome the potential decrease in funds raised due to the impacts of COVID-19.
“These kids need your help,” she said. “They’re hungry, they’re in need. We want to help them enjoy the holiday season.”
Alexa, who found fame at the age of 12 after starring in the “Spy Kids” franchise, said though she’s always “loved Jesus,” it wasn’t until the age of 22 that her faith became truly personal.
“Growing up, I always had this craving for God,” she said. “But it wasn't until I was older and I actually started reading the Word that I understood what being a believer and a follower of Jesus actually meant. I realized it was more than just going to church on Sunday. It’s funny because my heart always craved more, but I didn't know why.”
Determined to learn more about her faith, Alexa began attending Bible study, where she met Carlos. The two married in 2014. Their first son, Ocean, was born in 2018, and their second child, Kingston, was born in 2019.
"Everything really did change when my faith became more real to me, including the roles I accepted," she said.
Shortly before the birth of their sons, the couple — who have starred in several movies together — moved from Los Angeles to Maui, hoping to find community and strengthen their faith away from the pressures of Hollywood.
“There are so many things that we just do differently because of our faith, even silly little things like us moving out to Hawaii,” Alexa said. “People thought we were crazy, they're like, ‘you're going to ruin your careers.’ But we really did take a leap of faith and listened to what God had for our family.”
“God has opened so many doors here. Once we made that move for our children and for us, we found true community that has just been incredible.”
Like millions of Americans, COVID has posed challenges for the PenaVegas — but Carlos said that the biblical words that resound in his mind are “do not be afraid.”
“We're beyond blessed to be in the position that we are right now. But I'll tell you, COVID has made things really hard for us,” he said. “Alexa is the queen of no fear, she’s my rock. Even if everything falls apart, I have my spouse. That’s why we love The Salvation Army. They’re all about family and helping keep families together.”
Despite the setbacks 2020 has presented, Alexa said the coronavirus has also provided an opportunity to “get quiet with God and reconnect with Him.”
“Sometimes I just take a quick 10 seconds to connect with Him, and the stressors of the day go away,” she said. “It’s so hard when we’re caught up in worry, materialism, distractions, all of that. We need to remember — hold on, God is upstairs. Let’s take a moment and reconnect with Him.”To find out more about giving to The Salvation Army, click here.