Rondolyn Baker barely made it to the annual Christmas Eve Breakfast Wednesday at Phil Waterford’s Manteca Ford.
She arrived from Stockton that morning with five of her children – the family is homeless, calling a motel their temporary place of residence – in her 1992 Ford Bronco with “plenty of issues.”
By that, Baker, who is a jewelry designer, mentioned that the SUV had no reverse gear, a leaky roof, no working air conditioning or heating, and no valid registration tags since she still couldn’t get it to pass smog.
Waterford, who met the family not too long ago, asked Rondolyn to come out to this seventh annual event at his Manteca dealership at 555 N. Main St.
“He told me to clean out the Bronco so his service people could take a look at it,” she said,
Instead, Waterford made merry her Christmas by presenting her with the Ford Freestar van used for the dealership’s shuttle service.
“I didn’t wake up (that day) thinking I was going to give away a car,” he later said. “But the lady was in need of reliable transportation.”
Waterford was well aware of Baker’s situation.
She had returned to California after living in Texas. Her Chrysler Town & Country minivan was totaled in an accident and her brother helped out by providing the Bronco.
Her 18-year-old daughter Daphne, who saw her mother’s recent struggles, helped out by pouring in the oil, transmission fluid and gas into the old SUV. “We were just trying to get here and back (to Stockton),” she said.
The Manteca Ford Santa Claus, who was already on hand to distribute unwrapped gifts to the first 500 children age 12 and under, approached Baker with a decorative box containing a set of keys.
When she finally realized it was for a set of new wheels, Baker became extremely emotional. “This was totally unexpected,” she said.
On top of that, the van was already paid off much to the relief of Baker, who was making payments on her wrecked vehicle.
She met Waterford by happenstance. Although both believe it was from a higher order based on their religious faith.
Waterford’s spirit of giving back to the community has been well documented over the years. Several weeks ago, he was meeting a friend at the Lincoln Center in Stockton and had just talked about the one-time homeless veteran Jim Greer, who he and Pastor Mike Dillman of The Place of Refuge helped out.
“I thought ‘wherever you are, you’re supposed to be there,’” recalled Waterford.
He was approached by Baker’s young son, Jordan, and her granddaughter Brianna.
“They asked Phil if he wanted to buy my handmade jewelry,” said Rondolyn Baker, who had ran out of gas in the Bronco and had set up shop with hopes of making a couple of bucks.
She added: “We had to walk to Lincoln Center – I wouldn’t normally do that with the kids in the car.”
Waterford and his family befriended Baker and her kids soon after.
She, Daphne, Jordan along with Caleb, Madison and Deziray looked forward to attending the Waterford Christmas Eve event, where they could enjoy breakfast, get free flu shots – the nearby Walgreen’s donated this service – and children could get their unwrapped gift.
“It was a very Merry Christmas,” Baker said. “The year is not over – we’re hoping and praying to find a place to call home.”
Waterford, earlier, had arrived to his dealership at 6:30 a.m. A line of people waiting to get in for this special event had already snaked around the corner – he later estimated attendance at 1,000,
Along the way, Waterford was once again overwhelmed by generosity of others.
Many had stepped up to help out with monetary donations or provide their services. Included was the local bowling association coupled with American Legion Post 249 and American Legend Riders Chapter 249.
Pastor Dillman and those from The Place of Refuge once again collaborated to make possible this event.
Manteca Police Chief Nick Obligacion also chipped in with the $10 In-N-Out Burger gift cards.
“Those were a big hit,” Waterford said. “I love our cops.”
In addition, he was helped out by Nulaid Foods, Inc., Crystal Dairy, and Foster Farms, to name a few.
“One guy came up to me at 9 o’clock and gave me $100 cash just because he wanted to be part of (the Christmas Eve Breakfast),” Waterford said.