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Scared off by offers of help
Panhandling family at Post Office rejects assistance
The man holding this sign did not want a picture of him and his family taken but allowed his sign to be photographed. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

It was a busy Monday at the Post Office on Maple Avenue in downtown Manteca. It was four days before Christmas, and there was a steady parade of people dropping off Christmas cards and packages to loved ones.

But several of them were not so harried that they did not notice the family standing at the bottom of the steps. It was hard to ignore them considering the man was holding a large sign with a message that read: “For-goodness-sake/we-need-to-have and/celebrate-our-children/some-food-ion-the-table/no-job happy-holidays/and-a-warm-happy-birthday/God-bless.” All the letters were written in bold upper case.

Some people leaving the building quickly handed bills to them without stopping to chat. But a few like Mitchell Wiedema and Roberto Sepulveda stopped to talk to the man who appeared to be the husband of the woman and the father of the two young girls who identified themselves as Juliana and Sophia. The adult male and female, however, declined to give their names. The man also did not want to have their picture taken, but allowed his sign to be photographed.

The man said he did not have a job and they are homeless; their temporary home, he said, was their car. Other information he volunteered: they lived in San Diego prior to moving to Manteca and have been here for six months, and they came to the United States from a place in Italy near Genoa. He spoke with an accent but the two young girls’ speech did not manifest it. The woman did not volunteer any word but had an amiable smile to all. All four had friendly smiles to everyone, with the two adults flashing several gold front teeth.

Wiedema tried to offer the family some help by referring them to his home church, Big Valley Grace Community, in Modesto. If they are in need of food, Wiedema said, his church has an outreach program that could provide them that assistance. He then proceeded to give the man directions on how to get to the church.

Noticing the family and the prominent sign being displayed by the man, a number of people stood on standby while Wiedema and, to a lesser extent, Sepulveda, talked to the man about where they can find help.

But after chatting with Wiedema for a few minutes, the man and his family abruptly walked away to the parking lot next to the Fiesta store across the street where they got into a red minivan then drove away.

Sepulveda, who has been helping untold numbers of needy families, many of them farmworkers in and around the area, noted that he felt pretty sure he has seen the two adults previously in the area but could not remember exactly where. Before he could offer some help, however, the family had bolted away.