Community outraged after Spanish-speaking families were turned away during holiday toy registration

TULSA, Okla. — Several Tulsans are outraged after Spanish-speaking families were turned away during a holiday toy registration at Loaves and Fishes ministry.

“My children are Hispanic. We speak predominantly Spanish at home, so for someone to be turned away for their language it really offended me,” said Megan Aviles, who witnessed the incident.

It was Tuesday when Aviles stood in line with her two daughters waiting to register for the ministry’s annual toy giveaway. She noticed several Hispanic women in front were being denied access to the registration because they didn’t speak English.

“I went forward to try and assist and was like look, I can translate for these women. I’m bilingual,” said Aviles.

However, the pastor and executive director of the organization admitted he didn’t allow her or anyone else to translate for the families.

“The reason I didn’t use one of our guests or a family member or even a child is my experience with interpreters is they don’t necessarily interpret what I say,” said pastor Al Poncel.

He said he would feel more comfortable having interpreters he knows, so nothing is lost in translation. Poncel said this is the first time that he has ran into a language issue at the ministry after years of being with the organization, but still he felt he made a mistake by turning away the families just because he didn’t have the staff to help with the high demand.

“I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. I didn’t want to offend anybody. I want to help as many people as I can,” said Poncel.

He said he is looking at ways to improve and be more inclusive of the needs of the community, so he is already looking at partnering with other local ministries and organizations to help interpret in the future.

“The 18th and 19th is going to be big days of our Christmas outreach. I’m going to make sure I have an interpreter here to be able to properly interpret, have the proper forms because I’m required by the food bank of USDA to fill out specific form,” said Poncel.

Loaves and Fishes’ mission is to “alleviate suffering of impoverished families by offering charitable assistance.”

They have served about 20,000 families since January, according to Poncel.