A reporter's job is usually just to write the story. But sometimes, we get swept up and live it. The following is that kind of story. This section tells this editor's experience; the remainder is the article published in the Dec. 26 edition of the Patterson Irrigator.
Patterson Police Chief Marc Nuno and his staff put their hearts (and backs) into helping a local family in need this Christmas, gathering up enough donations to completely furnish their home over the holiday.
Their efforts have made an even more profound and lasting impact than they might have realized.
The family of 11 (all daughters) is from a Middle Eastern country, and after more than five years in the U.S., they are still settling in.
As we have talked for this story, I have visited the family twice. The first time, we talked over tea, followed by dinner. We ate on the floor, and I was sent home with a plate of food. Some of the questions the girls asked took me by surprise. How many people had attended my wedding?
The second visit, on Christmas Eve, I returned the plate with a loaf of homemade sourdough. I also wanted to share something “American,” so I took along some Waldorf salad, minus the nuts – we just call it apple salad. Who couldn’t like apple salad? I told the salad’s origin story, though I’m not sure it translated well. But they all seemed to enjoy it anyway.
We sat on the floor again, which they had prepared for the arrival of the new sectional couch the officers will be bringing as soon as the remaining pieces arrive.
As we drank the green tea spiked with cardamom and chatted, we all began to relax a little, and traded information about our cultures. I found myself fielding questions about Christmas traditions, and we talked about the dismal education situation, particularly for girls, in their home country.
Every visit has involved food, and the delicious tea has always been offered. I had been gifted with some of the latter, but my attempt to make it at home failed to come close to what I’d enjoyed with the family.
During my first visit, Mom folded laundry as we visited, separating the girls' clothes into plastic tote boxes.
Dinner was delicious. As a guest, I was served first, and given the nicest of everything. The meal also included homemade naan bread, which is misidentified in the accompanying article as lavash.
The same daughter as before translated during my second visit, ironing clothes as we chatted. Mom stroked the three-year-old’s hair long after she fell asleep. A few of the older girls, along with some of the younger ones, contributed to the conversation. Another daughter or two appeared when they tried the apple salad.
I was offered a small plate packed with golden raisins and chickpeas, along with the tea.
They showed me pictures of the meal they had prepared as a thank you for the officers who’d brought the furniture, which they had delivered to the police station. Meatballs, among other “company foods” were artfully arranged on the plates. (The family of 11 does not often eat meat.) Both parents, along with several of the daughters, had gone to the station to present the meal.
I attempted to learn to pronounce everyone’s names, but provoked giggles when I attempted Mom’s. It sounded something like “Katherine," but apparently not quite.
Spending time with this family has confronted this editor with how extremely difficult it must be, to try to get along from day to day in a world where literally everything, from language to money to customs, is so different.
By adopting this family, the members of Patterson Police Services have truly made a difference. In one huge act of kindness, they made the lives of these 11 people a lot more comfortable, and they have brought them into the community via this newspaper. And by filling their home with furniture, these folks who "protect and serve" have helped a family in a strange land to become just a little more at home, and a little bit more like their neighbors.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays
Although the office was closed last Friday morning, there was plenty of activity going on inside the Patterson Police Station. In fact, the last couple of weeks have been very busy for the department, as Chief Nuno and his staff have worked to put together a very special Christmas for a local family.
By 10 a.m. Friday, about a dozen police officers, staff and a few volunteers, (many of the officers on their own time), were much of the way through putting together beds: three bunk bed-over-trundle combos, with three small drawers each. Pieces, parts and half-completed beds filled the front of the station, along with the occasional buzz of a cordless drill and good-natured ribbing.
A donated dining table and chairs were also squeezed into the space. Those would be taken over later, after the beds had been delivered and set up. A new couch for the family was also stored at the station.
The department became aware of the family through the Patterson Police Presents event, when the parents asked not for toys, but for mattresses for their nine daughters. All 11 in the family were sleeping on the floor.
After visiting them, Patterson Police Chief Marc Nuno and his department decided to adopt them for the holiday, and the Chief began pulling together resources.
Soon, cartons containing beds and bedding were on their way to the police station. “My goal was for them to be sleeping in their new beds by Christmas,” he said. It took most of the day Friday, but by the time the officers had driven away, beds for the entire family had been assembled, complete with linens.
As soon as she understood what was happening, the youngest, a three-year-old with a tousle of curly black hair, jumped up and down in excitement. Almost before the beds were assembled, the younger girls were on them. They were so excited they were up most of the night, their father said later.
The family expressed their gratitude several times that day, and again in a later interview.
The new couch, along with the table and chairs, the latter of which were donated by one of the sergeants, were delivered Monday, just two days before Christmas.
The family emigrated to the United States from a Middle Eastern country several years ago because the father’s job as a liaison to the American government put him, and his family, in danger, he said. He had received death threats, and had once hidden from a gunman who was looking for him. One day, one of his teenage daughters was nearly abducted from in front of the family’s home. The would-be kidnappers were chased off by his family and neighbors, he said. Five years later and thousands of miles away, he is still concerned enough about their safety to ask that photos of him, his wife and the older girls not be posted.
On an impromptu visit, this reporter was invited to share a meal with the family. We drank green tea as we chatted before the meal, one of the girls translating occasionally. All of the girls, except the youngest, speak English. The father is fairly fluent, and the mother gets by, with a little help from her daughters.
One of the girls rolled out a vinyl mat, and we ate, communal style, on the floor. As a guest, I was served on a tray, with a fork and spoon. The family ate from shared bowls, using lavash one of the daughters had made to scoop up a delicious dinner of chicken and rice.
Although he had a profession in his home country, difficulty with English has made it challenging for the father to find steady work. His English is much better now, and he has obtained a commercial driver’s license, but said a kidney stone has made it difficult to do physical work. He is due for surgery to remove the kidney stone tomorrow, he said. He picks up odd jobs, including driving for Uber or Lyft, whenever he can. The family also receives government assistance with food and other needs.
Until Friday, the family had no furniture.
The father says he is “really lucky; really happy,” because they are much safer here.
In their home country, there are obstacles to education, particularly for girls. One of the girls explained that the children could not go to school because most of the schools in the rural areas were bombed out. American children don’t understand the privilege it is to be able to go to school, one of the older girls said. “Some kids don’t even recognize what they have. They are taking it for granted.”
When they arrived in the U.S., none of the girls spoke English. The first day of school, one of them said, the teacher said, “’Hi, welcome to the United States.’ I didn’t know how to respond. I was just standing there.”
She described their teachers as “so helpful. They gave us more time to do homework, also supporting us; we were working together.”
The father echoed that sentiment, saying that the girls’ teachers have been “like a brother or sister – they were really kind, and really helped.”
The third grader, an outgoing little girl with twinkling eyes, tells of her accomplishments: she was just the MC at her school’s holiday program alongside the principal, she is involved in the recycling program and she is on the student council.
The parents recognize the importance of education, and were overjoyed when the girls began to graduate from high school and enroll in courses at CSUS, the father said. Two of the girls want to go to medical school; another plans to major in business.
The parents are willing to support their daughters while they pursue their educations, the father said, emphasizing several times how important it is, in order to be in a position “to support your family; to support your community.”
“That’s one of our goals, to help one day, because we know how it feels.” one of the older girls said.
The father ended the interview again expressing his family’s appreciation: “We are lucky; we are happy. We are safe, we have education, we have food – we have everything.”
Including, thanks to members of local law enforcement, a house full of furniture.
The family still needs a few more things, including a washer and dryer. Anyone interested in donating is encouraged to Patterson Police Services at 892-5071, Ext. 4.