The Warm Hearts Of Christmas

They call this the season of giving. But it’s not just presents being exchanged. Perhaps more than ever, hills folks are offering their help to the victims of poverty, abuse and disaster. Here are some of their stories:

Mel Copland grew up in Montclair. He’s a realtor and a builder and as long as I’ve known him, he’s been a can-do kind of guy. When the Oakland firestorm hit, he was out spraying rooftops and digging trenches. He was one of the first men to volunteer after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. And during the recent spate of hurricanes, he flew to Texas to help the Red Cross for three weeks. Sleeping on the floor of a church with no power and no hot water, you would think he’d be burned out on volunteering for awhile. But he says he can’t wait to help out again, especially in the Bay Area. Needless to say, Mel’s number is at the top of my speed dial.

Rosalie Masuda is a nurse and avid hills tennis player, who just couldn’t rest after Hurricane Katrina hit. She flew into the Dallas/Fort Worth area and took charge of a shelter, treating victims for everything from dehydration to depression. And the depression was worse than the injuries, she said.

“I remember a 71-year-old gentleman who looked daily for two weeks on the Red Cross computer system for his wife, who was placed on a different bus than he. A local attorney hearing about his plight hired a private investigator and located her in Houston in a nursing home,” she recalls. “They were united and he had a cardiac arrest that same week at the shelter.”

After many long days and restless nights, Masuda was grateful to come home to family and friends, who, in return, gave her a wonderful welcome home party.

Justin Miller grew up in Montclair, went to high school at Saint Mary’s and joined the Peace Corps. Now he’s working in Mexico, doing disaster evaluations in 10 tiny villages hit by Hurricane Stan. His mother, Gabby, says the area was cut off by mudslides and the corps went as far as they could by jeep, then traversed rugged mountains for days on end.

“At one point, unable to reach a village before dark, they stumbled about and lost their way, until they found a mountain hut where they spent the night,” she recalls. Dirty and cold, her son and his group huddled together in high winds and below freezing temperatures until sunrise.

“The people in the next village were relieved the next day to see that they had survived, and not fallen into some ravine.” In fact, the villagers were so grateful for the corps’ help, they were made guests of honor at a family Quinseanera.

And while we’re on the subject of local boys making good — Scot Gordon is a young man who I once helped with a broadcast internship. He was a sharp kid who learned quickly and showed great poise and maturity for someone in high school.

He’s gone on to run his own business in Orinda (Quenchers) and start a foundation called ENABLE. One of their projects is helping to modernize a medical facility in Uburu, Nigeria. Scot has secured the help of Dr. John Gentile, the director of medical affairs for Alta Bates and Summit hospitals, who is rounding up medicine, equipment and other supplies. He’s got Cal Evans with Von Hoffman Publishing finding medical textbooks for the hospital. And he’s trying to line up power sources, since the doctors often work by the dim light of a small hand-cranked generator.

“There are several families who live right around here who are from Uburu,” Scot says, and “these guys are amazing — they have PhDs and masters’ degrees, but some of them are collecting toll on the Bay Bridge just to send money home.”

I’m proud to be able to tell the stories of these generous neighbors. It warms my heart at Christmas time. The message of hope is as strong as ever. Peace on Earth, good will toward men.


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