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Outpouring of support for young family
Seven-year-old Kalli McElrath gets a little help from Tom Langenhorst of Fagundes Meats as they hand out a pre-ordered meal. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
On the surface, it was all about a regular small-town drive-thru dinner fund-raiser

But it was more than that. It was about a lifelong friendship, a family coming to the aid of a bereaved loved one, and strangers who were touched by a young family’s heartbreaking loss and simply wanted to reach out in whatever small way they could.

About a dozen volunteers handed out more than 500 meals Thursday evening at Fagundes Meats in Manteca where the drive-thru dinner fund-raiser was held coordinated by Brian Corcoran. The DVI correctional officer organized the event to help his childhood friend, Richard “Richie” Guillermo, who lost his wife, Michelle “Shell,” unexpectedly last month following surgery. She left behind her husband and their three children, 3-year-old Sami and the twins Abbigail and Gabriel who are turning two this month. The two worked side by side in assembly-line fashion, along with other volunteers, in front of Fagundes Meats putting together the freshly barbecued beef and chicken with all the trimmings in individual food boxes that were handed out to ticket holders as they drove through the parking lot.

Among those who showed up to lend a hand were Shawn Nussbaumer, owner of J & J Printing in Manteca, John McElrath and his two daughters – Emily, 13, and Kalli, 7, both students of St. Anthony of Padua School – Lynn Corcoran and daughter Angela Leblanc who brought along her son Trenton, and Guillermo’s father, Richard, of Lathrop. Missing was Richie Guillermo’s mom, Junie Manding, who had to take care of her three grandchildren who had a cold and were running a fever.

Nussbaumer donated not only the printing of the dinner tickets; he also made the personalized thank-you notes that were placed on top of each dinner box. The note read: “Thank you for your love and support…. Love, Richie, Sami, Abbi & Gabe.”

“This is my adopted family,” Nussbaumer said with a smile, gesturing toward everyone who was there to help.

“I’m just trying to help out,” said the father of two kids who are now 9 and 11 years old.

Noting the three young children ages 3 and under who just lost their mother, Nussbaumer said, “I couldn’t imagine trying to raise them by myself” if he found himself in Richie Guillermo’s shoes.

Lynn Corcoran, Brian’s mother, said everyone was overwhelmed by the generous response from so many people, many of whom were strangers to the family.

“The article (in the Manteca Bulletin) touched a lot of hearts. We have had many donations from people touched by the story,” said Lynn Corcoran who remembered the years when Richie Guillermo was a regular visitor at her home when he and her son were growing up. The two friends went to Sequoia Elementary School and graduated from Manteca High.

A deeply overwhelmed Richie Guillermo was at a loss for words at the outpouring of help for his family.

“I appreciate all this help from the family and from all our friends,” he said.

“The kids are good,” he added when asked about his young children.

While Junie Manding was unable to attend the fund-raiser, she sent an e-mail to the Bulletin saying, “I’m sorry I did not get to see the many dear friends, family and many generous strangers who have been touched by my family’s heartbreaking loss of my daughter-in-law Michelle, aka Shell, (and) to reach out and give support to my son Richie and grandchildren. I know Michelle is smiling down upon everyone who came out and those who came that put together the dinner, to know that people care and love her family.”

As she helped prepare the meals, Lynn Corcoran smiled and said, “Now, we just need to get him a job and his car fixed,” referring to the young widow who was laid off from his job as a plumber two years ago.

After he lost his job, his late wife took a job as a waitress in Stockton and he became Mr. Mom. A week before his wife underwent surgery, their van’s transmission went out. Recently, he was told by a couple of car repair shops that the vehicle cannot be repaired. The dinner fund-raiser was to get the van fixed. The family is now looking at other options.

Two other fund-raisers to help the Guillermo family are taking place today and Saturday: a garage sale at 1647 Sallie “O” Street, off Primavera Park in Manteca, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also, a Gigi Hill Purse party will be held on Friday, Oct. 29, from 5 to 7 p.m. in Ripon with all profits going to the Guillermo family. For more information about the purse party, call (209) 373-8051.