Ernestine Matus stood in line with her son, daughter and mother holding gifts to donate during the Raiders’ Toys for Tots collection in front of the Raider Image store at Town Square on Dec. 15.
Matus, a longtime Raiders fan, was excited to meet Raiders alumni Lincoln Kennedy and Kirk Morrison, but she didn’t bring her family just for the autographs. It was about giving to children who might not have gifts to open on Christmas morning.
The toys donated from the event were given to the Toys for Tots of Southern Nevada.
“My children haven’t really had a Christmas the last three years, and I can’t let another child go through what they went through,” Matus, 42, said. “I decided I’m going to donate and meet the Raiders.”
That’s when Matus had her moment of reflection. Four years ago, Matus probably never imagined standing in line with her family able to afford to donate gifts while meeting players from her favorite NFL team.
First, to have the Raiders hosting a charity event in her hometown was unforeseen until the team announced its move to Southern Nevada from Oakland in March.
Standing in a line together with her family is what Matus is most grateful for. Matus and her mother, Rosella, went many years without speaking. They put their differences aside four years ago and have become best friends.
Matus’ son, Richard Delgado, wouldn’t have considered being a part of an event hosted by the Raiders. He’s an Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay Packers fan.
“We’re a Raiders family,” Ernestine Matus said. “(Richard) likes to make fun of us when the Raiders aren’t doing too well.”
Delgado, 18, who played football at Las Vegas High, remembers the years his mother struggled to provide for him and his sister, Desiree Delgado, and grandmother.
“When you see the struggle and know the struggle you don’t want the struggle for another person and that’s why we came down here together,” Matus said. “I didn’t want another child to go through that on Christmas.”
Matus split up with the father of her two children nearly a decade ago. Soon after the divorce, the family left Southern California and moved to Las Vegas. The father sporadically visits the family and has failed to provide financially for his two children, according to Matus.
Despite not having much money, Matus offered to take in her mother and look out for her. That meant not having extra money to spend during birthdays and Christmases.
“My kids understand it’s OK if there aren’t any gifts under the Christmas tree,” Matus said. “They’re big now, but it was hard when they younger. But we’re just thankful to have a home and a roof over our heads.”
Matus, a medical assistant, refused to ask for help for years, but she had no other options last year when she visited a government assistance center. She was told she made too much money. It didn’t matter that she was a single parent supporting three.
Richard is currently applying for jobs to help his mother. He has aspirations to be a broadcast sports reporter or football coach. For now, he’ll settle for shoveling snow at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for $10 an hour.
Desiree, a student at Chaparral High, is working on her dream of being an actress. Participating in choir at school is the first step of getting to Hollywood.
“Am I going to be famous?” Desiree jokingly asked when having her picture taken for this story.
Matus, who’s favorite current Raider is Khalil Mack, became a Raiders fan because of her father. Her father promised Matus he would take her to a Raiders game one day. He passed away when she was 9 years old, and she still hasn’t seen the Silver and Black live.
The dream might come true when the Raiders arrive in Las Vegas in 2020. Maybe even a Raiders-Packers game so her son could fulfill his dream, too.
“We would have to sit on opposite sides,” Matus said laughing.
Before the Raiders arrive, Matus is just happy to be able to watch the Raiders play on Christmas night against the Eagles with her family. Even if it means hearing Richard trash talk if things go south for the Raiders versus Nick Foles and company.
“I’m sure he’ll throw a little salt on there,” Matus said.