Starla Beltran had never before met Phil Waterford.
But when an invitation was extended for her to attend the annual Christmas Eve breakfast at his Manteca Ford dealership on North Main Street Thursday morning, the single mother – who made headlines by returning a wallet with $4,000 in cash to a man who had lost it in Stockton – obliged.
And boy was she glad she did.
As more than 100 people waited outside in the drizzling rain for the event, which has become somewhat of a holiday tradition in Manteca, to begin, Waterford took the microphone from Pastor Mike Dillman and began telling the crowd about Beltran’s story.
She’s a single mother who works at a bagel bakery in Stockton that is trying to pay off massive medical bills after a scare with her son Anthony earlier this year. When she lived in Stockton she used a skateboard as her main source of transportation, and now – as a Manteca resident – gets rides from friends or family members.
All of that changed on Thursday morning when Waterford handed her the keys to a brand new 2016 Ford Focus after he was overcome reading about her generosity – deciding at the last minute to upgrade a used car for a brand new one that the young woman said she never could have afforded otherwise.
“I never thought that I’d ever be able to afford a car,” said Beltran – wiping away tears. “I’ve been struggling for so long and this was so completely unexpected. I’m just grateful – I believe in God and when I returned that wallet I put myself in that person’s shoes.
“Yes, that money would have helped a lot, but I wouldn’t have been able to have lived with myself when spending it. I think this is God, who sees everything, recognizing that. I never knew this man Phil Waterford, but right now – he’s my best friend.”
The unexpected giveaway was a special bow on a community event that the Manteca businessman has been holding annually since a selfless act by his son during the holidays brought the spirit of giving into sharper focus.
According to Dillman, who led the group of attendees in a prayer, the annual breakfast and toy giveaway started after Brandon Waterford, who is now a teenager, decided that he’d rather give his Nintendo Wii away to somebody who needed it rather than keep it for himself. The story, which went viral, eventually spawned a massive toy drive for foster children in the community and eventually gave way to a community breakfast the following year.
For Dameon Goods, who says he lives across the street from the dealership and has had to choose between paying bills this year and buying gifts for his children, the event is a godsend.
“I think that it’s wonderful to be have something like this for the families who need it the most,” Goods said. “And to do it on an annual basis is almost biblical – it’s about helping out the people who need the most help.
“I appreciate the willingness of people to make this possible and make Christmas something special for these families.”
Event sponsors include Foster Farm’s, NuCal Eggs and Walgreens – who were there making flu shots available anybody who needed them.
The cooking was done by Stockton’s InnerCity Action – an organization that provides tools and guidance for the homeless and displaced throughout San Joaquin County – and a team of volunteers that included Jeff and Tevani Liotard and former Manteca Police Chief Charlie Halford.