RICHMOND, Calif. (KTVU) - Every year around this time, Richmond resident Sandra Maravilla loads up her minivan with blankets that she’s collected for the homeless.
Her grassroots donation drive is simple. Without a lot of publicity or fanfare, she reaches out to friends and co-workers and also digs into her own pocket to gather up as many blankets as she can, so she can hand them out when she encounters someone living on the streets.
“I always keep blankets in my car so when I see a homeless person I give it to them,” Maravilla told KTVU Fox 2.
It is her own holiday tradition that she practices as the temperatures drop and a chill fills the air. The first round of her giveaway comes during Thanksgiving time.
Then she goes around distributing more blankets that she’s collected during the month of December, leading up to Christmas.
But on Dec. 5, her collection efforts suffered a setback.
Maravilla and her three children were hit with disappointment when someone broke into her minivan in the middle of the day and made off with the six big blankets she had gathered so far for the next round of her giveaway.
In addition to the blankets, thieves also took other items, including her children’s Christmas gifts and her toddler’s carseat.
The kids were devastated. Maravilla shared a photo of her youngest, who had burst into tears after they discovered they’d been robbed.
“The reaction of my kids broke my heart completely— seeing them crying when they saw the minivan and their stuff all gone and broken glass all over the seats.”
She reported the break-in to police, who said they were sorry about what happened and explained that there's been a lot of vehicle vandalism and thefts in the Bay Area.
While the thieves got away with the blankets and Christmas toys, they did not rob Maravilla of her resolve to try and help bring some warmth in a stranger’s life.
"I will continue to do this, it’s something I love to do and it makes me happy to see the joy on their faces,” Maravilla said.
For her, it’s also a very personal mission, as she holds close thoughts of her brother who is in Mexico, facing struggles of his own.
"I do this because I know how it feels to need help from someone especially in times like this when it's cold. It reminds me of my brother of how he’s in this same situation and he’s so far and it's impossible for me to help him."