PADECKY: Cristina and Alexis, you are not alone

By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Cristina Garcia and Alexis Vargas should know what people think of them.

The price on the candy bar was one dollar but the guy from Windsor said, “Here’s $100 and keep the change.”

At another fundraiser, the bake-sale cupcake was only a buck but what the heck, the woman said, ‘Here’s $50 and that should about cover it.”

Hey, said the folks at Elsie Allen, “You made a donation, so take some candy.” Nah, came the response time after time. “Keep the candy.” It happened so often that Madison Lott, Elsie’s boys basketball coach, has so much candy in the back of his SUV, it’s a wonder the cops haven’t stopped him and asked why he robbed the See’s store.

So, Cristina and Alexis, as you look for answers, stability and a warm place from that night on Dec. 23, know this. You are not alone. You will not have to make this journey by yourselves. There are hands, everywhere, reaching out.

Alexis, you can’t see them all yet. You’re not in that place yet. You’re in that San Francisco hospital, having endured surgeries on your face and legs, with more operations to come.

Cristina, if you can manage, I just bet you’ll get in touch with Alexis later today. You’re going to call up your buddy, your cousin, your cheerleading teammate, and tell Alexis what it was like coming home Tuesday afternoon. You’ll have flown in from San Antonio, be home for the first time since the car accident that killed your mother in Mexico. You’re going to tell Alexis who was waiting for you.

“We want to leave an impression,” said Nayeli Marquez, an Elsie senior on the cheerleading team.

This is the impression: The entire Elsie Allen cheerleading squad, numbering around 25, will stand in front of Cristina and do a cheer especially for her. Marquez, one of the team captains, isn’t sure what the cheer will be yet. Heck, she just thought about it for the first time Monday night. But Marquez knows a hug and “hang-in-there” simply won’t do. Cristina needs to see familiarity. She needs home, is what she needs.

Cristina, this is home.

“Roses For Alexis And Cristina,” so said the donation box at the entrance to the Elsie basketball gym Monday night. The boys were playing Petaluma and for the seventh time since the car accident, Elsie has held a school sporting event that doubled as a fundraiser. Five bucks gets you a T-shirt. Some people actually took a T-shirt with Cristina’s and Alexis’ names on it. Many times they just give money, with a $20 bill not an uncommon donation.

Cristina and Alexis, you have gone to Windsor and Healdsburg and Piner and Petaluma and Rancho Cotate and El Molino and Analy. Folks from all those high schools have made those donations.

As competitive and chit-chatty as Sonoma County can be about who-is-doing-what-to-whom, people have suspended such curiosity.

This is not about a rival school. This is not about maintaining allegiance to school pride.

This is a human issue.

Cristina and Alexis, for what they went through and what they are going to go through, people have recognized this is far greater than holding onto the school colors. Something bigger is at stake here, something that makes our species special. It’s called compassion.

“And it’s coming from strangers,” Lott said.

In fact, most of the money is coming from people who have never met and certainly do not know Garcia and Vargas. They just know the story. Cristina’s father, Francisco, swerved to miss an animal driving at night in the state of Coahuila in northern Mexico. The car with its seven occupants rolled. Cristina’s mother, Maria, died. Cristina, an Elsie junior, suffered a broken pelvis. Cristina’s 8-month-old baby, Maya, had internal bleeding and a skull fracture. Alexis, a senior, had those facial and leg injuries. Cristina’s brother, Daniel, had skin grafts.

Two days before Christmas.

And Francisco and Maria were going to renew their vows.

“I didn’t know how to react,” Marquez said.

That didn’t last long. The Elsie cheerleaders and boys basketball team began, for want of better words, a movement. The medical bills, no one knows how much. It will be a staggering amount and $100,000 seems like a low figure. So came the bake sales and the T-shirt sales and the candy sales and donations at the gym door. The girls would go door-to-door through neighborhoods. They would tell the story at each stop. They would ask for anything.

Rotarians stepped up. The Sunrise Rotary used frequent-flier miles to fly five family members back to Santa Rosa. They have established a bank account for the families. Donna Waldman (585-7780) is handling the Silent Auction for the Jan. 27 pasta feed at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Donna Zapata (293-6777) is handling the pasta feed tickets. To date, an estimated $20,000 has been raised. I write all this because Cristina and Alexis should know they are not alone.

They should know people have been working for them, in ways still to be decided, with people yet to be involved. It’s about two girls who could be your daughters or my daughters and who could turn a blind eye to something so close to home. Empathy, after all, is a gift we all can share.

“You Always Have A Home.” That’s what Alan Petty tells his kids about Elsie. History teacher and athletic director, Petty believes Elsie Allen is not a place one just passes through. It’s a place that stays with a person and, like Nayeli Marquez would say, that can happen when people leave an impression.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.

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