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Neighbors holding garage sale for family that lost their home to fire
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Fire Captain Marvin Mears is shown interviewing Helen Gonzales, wrapped in a blanket, after the November 4 fire that gutted her home. Gonzales was still in bed when the fire broke out, and her husband had just left to take their grandchildren to school. The family lost everything in the fire. Their neighbors are holding a garage sale fund-raiser this weekend to help the family get back on their feet. - photo by Bulletin file photo
Neighbors of Carlos and Helen Gonzales were quick to extend a helping hand when the couple and their extended family lost everything in the November fire that completely gutted their Yorktown Lane home. Damage to their home was pegged at $300,000 and another $100,000 for the contents.

This Saturday, the same caring neighbors are again collectively reaching out to the couple, their children and grandchildren by holding a neighborhood-wide garage sale along with a drawing for a number of donated prizes that include oil changes, beauty treatments at local beauty salons, and passes to health clubs.

“These are such nice people. We’re so glad to help them a little bit,” said Steve Rehkopf, the captain of the Neighborhood Watch group that is spearheading this philanthropic event.

His home at 1183 Yorktown Lane will be among those hosting a garage sale. The fund-raising event will start at 8 a.m. and will continue throughout the day “until we’re done,” said Rehkopf. The drawing will take place at 2 p.m. and the winners will be contacted on the phone.

“All money from the garage sale will be put in the bank,” he said, and deposited in the account that was opened at Bank of the West in Manteca for the Gonzales family.

Rehkopf said there will be a donation box at the community garage sale as well where people can place cash donations for the family.

The garage sale fund-raiser was the brainchild of Neighborhood Watch member Rick Peloso. He discussed it with neighbor Jaha Wilson and then together they talked it over with Rehkopf.

“I thought it was a wonderful idea. We met in my home and we planned this garage sale,” said Rehkopf who is an educator with the San Joaquin County Office of Education.

“It’s just to help them (the Gonzales family) as their neighbor. They lost everything (in the fire),” he said about their fund-raising effort.

After the fire, the family was “dispersed,” Rehkopf said. Carlos and Helen went to live with their daughter while the others found accommodations elsewhere.

The house is currently being rebuilt, with the frame already up. The family hopes to be able to move back into their home by April. With the proceeds from this weekend’s garage sale, the caring neighbors hope to help the Gonzales family get back on their feet after losing everything.

The fire happened around 8:45 a.m. on Nov. 4. Helen Gonzales, who had been ill, was still in bed when the fire broke out. Her husband had just taken their grandchildren to school and had stopped at the Valero service station at Union Road and Louise Avenue for his usual morning cup of coffee. His wife was alerted to the fire by shouts from outside. Neighbor Pam Ginnossa found Helen Gonzales standing in her front yard by the fence where she fled to escape the burning house. Knowing her neighbor had been ill, Ginnossa quickly went and grabbed a blanket to put around her friend as she led her to the relative security of her own garage.

Knowing that Gonzales was also usually hooked up to a portable oxygen tank, Ginnossa went to her home and brought out one that is usually used by her husband and then helped Gonzales put it on.

Other neighbors quickly came to the aid of the Gonzales family as well, bringing clothing for the couple and the rest of the family members.

The fire was believed to have started in the garage, possibly by a water heater or in a truck parked inside that Carlos Gonzales had been working on.

For more information about the garage sale fund-raiser, call 239-4630 or 823-3449.