Fundraising effort launched for Oakland educator caring for siblings who lost both parents to COVID

Maricruz Martinez with siblings Emma and Sergio Reyes at Laney College in Oakland, Calif. for Emma Reye's first vocal performance since their mother's April 29, 2022 passing.  (Maricruz Martinez)

A fundraising effort has been launched to help an Oakland educator find housing and support her two younger siblings after the family lost both parents to COVID-19.

Maricruz Martinez’s step-father, Carlos Reyes, died on August 4, last year, just weeks shy of his 53rd birthday. Martinez said he was the only father she'd had. 

And then almost nine months later on April 29, her mother, Maria Reyes, died from complications related to COVID, Martinez told KTVU. 

Carlos Reyes of Oakland died of COVID-19 on Aug. 4, 2021. His wife died on April 29, 2023, from complications related to the virus.  (Reyes Family )

Both parents got coronavirus around the same time, during the summer of 2021. Neither was vaccinated, the daughter said. 

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Martinez, 33, said her mother suffered lung-related complications that sent her to a long term care facility. But her health eventually improved, and she was able to return home right before Thanksgiving last year. 

But then the respiratory issues began flaring up again at the start of this year. The morning she died, Martinez’s 15-year-old brother, Sergio, was the one who found their mother in the bathroom, keeled over a bathtub. She wasn’t breathing.

Now as Martinez went through the grieving process with the loss of both parents within a year’s time, the educator was also going through the copious amount of legal paperwork to gain guardianship of her brother. 

Sergio has been under the care of his godparents and has remained living at the home he shared with his late parents. His godparents have been supporting him by paying rent. And Martinez has been covering the rest of his living expenses.  

The sister has also sought to create stability and consistency in her brother’s life during this difficult, tumultuous time. As part of that effort, she reached out to his private school in Berkeley, which generously offered financial aid to cover tuition for him, so he could remain at the school. 

Martinez also hoped to continue to support her younger sister Emma Reyes. The 20-year-old has been attending school, studying music, and has been living with her in the guestroom of the house that Martinez shared with other two Oakland educators. 

"What I want, what they want is to for us to be together," Martinez told KTVU. "But my current housing situation doesn't allow for that," she explained. 

In an effort to help the siblings and make their hope a reality, a parent at Sergio’s school has launched a GoFundMe.

"His parents did not have money or life insurance," Sylvia Williams wrote in the GoFundMe. "His older sister, Maricruz, has taken over care and custody for Sergio and his sister, but Maricruz is a public educator and just starting out in life herself," Williams explained. 

Martinez said her two younger siblings were extremely close and what they needed more than anything right now was to be together.

And while she's grateful that she's' been able to step up to be there for her siblings, the road ahead was daunting.  

"These responsibilities I didn’t have beforehand, suddenly I have all of them," she said, adding. "I was not prepared to become a guardian overnight."

She said her $63K annual salary as youth leadership developer at Oakland charter middle school Lodestar was sufficient for her to live on as a single person in the Bay Area, but she's learning that's not nearly enough to cover the living expenses of two more people. 

"I have supported raising children in my family before, full guardianship is a different challenge," Martinez said.

She hoped the money raised could supplement her own salary in allowing the three to secure long term housing in Oakland, the only city that they've known as home. 

"I am tenacious and resilient and know that there will be struggles along the way, but with what the three of us have endured for the past year, we would be so grateful to have a home to call our own," Martinez said. "My hope, my family’s hope is that the three of us can be reunited and living together."

Sergio Reyes and his sisters, Maricruz Martinez and Emma Reyes enjoying the view in Oakland, Calif. (Maricruz Martinez)

Donations can be made on the GoFundMe here