A green van pulled up to a tidy brick Mesa home on the morning of December 21, and out hopped a real-life Santa Claus — the co-owner and COO of Mint Cannabis, Raul Molina — and three employee “elves” bearing a Christmas surprise.
They knocked on the door, and when Mario Alberto Núñez Guzmán emerged, they gave him $1,000 to help with anything he and his family needs. Guzmán was moved to tears when he saw the oversize check.
Guzmán wasn’t the only one to be greeted with a little extra green the week before Christmas. For its Adopt-A-Family program, Mint Cannabis asks employees, community advocates, and others to nominate families that have extraordinary needs. The company helps four before Thanksgiving and four at Christmas.
Molina said he’s been helping people personally during the holidays for about two decades. “It helps me enjoy my holiday even more,” he explained.
Miguel Alvarado nominated his friend Guzmán, a DJ who used to have a thriving career spinning at fiestas, weddings, and quinceañeras. But after a serious bout of COVID-19 and pneumonia in June 2020, his health spiraled downward, and he’s been unable to work.
“I found out I was diabetic and developed hypertension,” Guzmán said. “By December, I was back in the hospital with kidney failure. It changed my whole life.”
Now, he’s on dialysis three times a week for four hours each day and needs a kidney transplant. “I don’t know how long I’m going to be on dialysis,” Guzmán said. “I don’t know how long I’m going to last.”
Though he has no medical insurance, he’s been getting by with help from family and friends. Guzmán said he was booked for 60 events in 2020 before the pandemic shutdown, and his subsequent illness put him out of business.
“I never in my life thought I’d go through this,” Guzmán said. He’d always been the one to care for his wife and teenage son and daughter, he noted, and now he’s the one being taken care of.
Though it’s hard not to be the breadwinner, he appreciates the support from Alvarado and Mint Cannabis. “Every little penny helps,” Guzmán said. And, he added, “It’s not just the money — people checking on you, talking to you, making sure you’re OK.”
The bilingual Guzmán also keeps up his spirits by sharing heart-wrenching updates on his medical condition, tests, and treatments in Spanish on his TikTok channel, @marioalbertonunez.
Guzmán didn’t yet know how he’ll use the $1,000 from Mint Cannabis and noted he was just happy to be planning to spend Christmas weekend with family. “I’m blessed to be alive,” he said. “Being close to God, close to the Lord, is what keeps me motivated.”
‘We Could All Do More’
This week, Mint Cannabis also surprised three others: a mother of two who fled from domestic violence and is living with her children in a Tempe motel, a single mom of nine in Laveen, and a single mom of three in west Phoenix.
Molina gives money instead of toys, clothing, or other gifts since other associations handle that, he said. Besides, he added, people don’t always know what a family’s other needs might be. However, he laments that he can’t do more.
“It’s tough these days because there are a lot of people in need, and it’s tough to pick and choose who we’re going to help,” Molina said.
Molina and Mint Cannabis co-owner and CEO Eivan Shahara have donated more than $3 million locally to those in need since the dispensary’s founding in 2017, according to the company. Molina also is devoted to helping people in Guadalupe, where Mint Cannabis is headquartered, and those experiencing homelessness. He and his daughters hand out personal items in areas where unsheltered people liveand Mint Cannabis also recently held a fundraiser to provide them with mobile bathrooms and showers.
Molina said it’s sad to see the number of people newly experiencing homelessness through no fault of their own. “Now you’re starting to see people like you and me who were living check-to-check, and then someone got COVID, or someone got sick, or the company shut down, and now you’re living in the street or living in a car.”
Though Molina acknowledged what he and Mint Cannabis do to help “is very little compared to what the need is,” he said it will get worse unless other people do what they can, too.
“I myself am blessed. I have an incredible support team and incredible family,” Molina said. “We could all do more. We could all be better humans.”