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Creative Aid for a Family in Need: GROUP OFFERS HELP BEYOND SIMPLY GIVING MONEY

October 10, 2007

By Lisa Fernandez, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

Oct. 10–When Natalina Gonzalez heard about the plight of a Fremont mother with a young daughter fighting serious heart and respiratory problems, she wanted to do more than give money.

So Gonzalez is creating a network of people to help Tamarah Molina, whose 2-year-old daughter, Julieanna, has been in and out of hospitals with serious health problems since birth.

Gonzalez is looking for people willing to donate not only cash, but a box of diapers from Costco, a Trader Joe’s gift card, a computer and home-cooked meals. The Molina family includes husband Fred and four young boys.

“Sometimes money is not enough,” said Gonzalez, 38, a San Jose resident and Hewlett Packard sales executive. “Sure, money is great, but if I write a check, that’s so one-dimensional. Time and talent matter, too.”

The unusual campaign to create the support network began at Bridges Community Church in Fremont, where Gonzalez’s longtime friend Andrea Tomassi attends. Molina goes there, too. One Sunday this summer, after a Fremont Argus story earlier in the year, the pastor called Molina out of the pews. And that’s how the story began to spread.

Inspired, Gonzalez and Tomassi, who owns a Santa Clara towing company, thought they’d harness the power of the Internet to organize a broad-based assistance program, hoping to draw out fellow Christians — and others, too. They created a Web site at helpjulieanna.ning.com to organize volunteers. Already, a few Silicon Valley residents are offering out-of-the-box ways to rally behind the Molina family, whether it be finding them steady sources of food from a church pantry or maybe providing a babysitter once in a while.

“If I make three phone calls, how hard is that?” said Gonzalez, who is trying to get her own community at Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos more involved. “What if everyone did that?”

The friends hope they’re flooded with requests to help. HP colleague Vivian Poehlman-Hsieh will manage the Web site. Friend Rich Wise of Milpitas hopes to arrange a music benefit with the band Sling Town around Christmas. Amando Mattos of Fremont brings groceries from a church food pantry each week. Tomassi will monitor e-mails.

“I have three children myself,” Tomassi said. “And I’ve been very blessed. They’re all healthy. . . . I know I can’t fix the problem. But I had to ask, ‘What can I do to make her life just a little bit easier?’ “

For her part, Molina believes good things are coming to her because she’s found her way back to God, and to church.

“Everything was falling apart,” she said. “But now, I feel like my prayers are being answered.”

Bridges Pastor Dale Goncalves said he’s witnessing something wonderful.

“For many who attend church,” he said, “there’s a desire to reach out to those in need. Sure, it’s in human nature to have a selfish part. But there’s also that part that says, ‘I want my life to count for something. I want to make a difference in one person’s life.’ “

Molina definitely needs the help. She was forced to quit her job at Wal-Mart about a year ago because she called in sick frequently to rush Julieanna to the hospital for her countless bouts of pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections and anemia. The toddler was born with two holes in her heart.

She and her husband had long dreamed of having a big family. And they have their hands full juggling their boys — Austin, 7, Junior, 5, Emelio, 4, and Devon, 3 — even when Julieanna isn’t feeling sick. Fred Molina, 25, earns $17 an hour as a cabinet finisher for Fremont Cabinets. Though he’s grateful for the help, his pride has taken a nose dive.

“He’s from El Salvador,” his wife said. “He’s the man of the family. He thinks taking care of us is his responsibility.”

But try as he might, he can’t take care of everything. The Molinas were evicted from their Newark home last year when they were short on rent. A Fremont landlord recently let the family rent a three-bedroom home for $1,500 a month, assuring them he’d work with them if they fell behind in some payments.

For now, the Molinas are eking by in an immaculately kept home, which Molina scours for grime and dust because her daughter’s lungs can’t take any germs. On a recent afternoon, Julieanna wasn’t feeling well. She slept for hours on a couch with the shades drawn.

Tamarah Molina doesn’t have the words to thank Gonzalez and her friends.

“We don’t need much,” Molina said. “I just want to make sure my rent is paid, and my PG&E is paid. I’m just scared to death that one day we’ll have nowhere to go.”

Contact Lisa Fernandez at lfernandez@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5002.

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Copyright (c) 2007, San Jose Mercury News, Calif.

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