The holiday season traditionally is a time for both giving and receiving.
But, for that to work, there obviously needs to be a giver and a recipient. This a quick story about one of each who helped make the DA’s Office 2021 Season of Giving a tremendous success.
Ernestina is a 42-year-old mother of five who range in age from 5 to 25. She is a past victim of a crime.
Not too long ago, Ernestina called just to talk to her Victim Services Specialist, Cynthia Martinez. During that typical friendly conversation, Cynthia told her about the Season of Giving program run by the DA’s Division of Victim Services.
“So, I told her things that my kids really wanted for Christmas this year,” Ernestina said. One of those items was something she thought would be great for her youngest.
“He always wants to help me when I’m cooking in the kitchen,” she said with a smile. “I have to tell him he can’t so one time he said to me: ‘Then get me a kitchen.’”
And a kid’s kitchen he shall receive. That was one of the gifts that was donated to Ernestina by DA employees as part of the Season of Giving program. She couldn’t believe it when she came to our downtown Riverside office to pick up all the gifts for her family.
“I’m so excited. This is wonderful,” Ernestina said. “I never ever expected this. This is such as wonderful thing you all are doing.
“The kids are going to be so happy. We are very blessed now this year,” she added.
There were several gifts for the younger children on the pushcart that was wheeled out to Ernestina’s vehicle and a handful of gift cards for the older ones.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart,” Ernestina said. “It is so nice to know that after something bad happens, good things can still happen too.”
That very appropriate mantra also tells the story of Laura Huerta.
In 2001, her then 22-year-old brother, Jessy, was shot to death in a Riverside parking lot. Unfortunately, the investigation went cold until 2009 when the shooter was arrested and charged.
That led to Laura and her family first being introduced to the DA’s Division of Victim Services (DVS).
“I didn’t even know then that something like Victim Services even existed,” she said. When Laura was first at the DVS office, she saw a small area set aside for children.
“I have always remembered that,” Laura said. “I thought its hard enough for adults going through a trauma like we were so I can’t even imagine what it must be like for kids.”
Fast forward about a dozen years later, to 2021.
Laura is on the board of the La Sierra Little League. This year was the league’s 3rd annual Toys for Tots Tournament in which Little League teams from across western Riverside County participate.
“The entrance ‘fee’ per player is a toy,” Laura said.
This year’s tournament resulted in a collection of about 400 toys and 100 gift cards.
So, when the time came for the league to decide where the donated toys should go, Laura knew that one of those entities had to be the Division of Victim Services.
“I’ve always wondered ‘How do you give back to something intangible like what the Division of Victim Services does?’, Laura said. “What they helped me and my family through was just remarkable.”
Recently, she and others from the La Sierra Little League brought about 40 toys to the DA’s downtown Riverside office and donated them to DVS to be distributed in the Season of Giving program to families who have received DVS assistance.
“This one was so close to my heart, personally, that I knew they had to be one of those we gave back to,” Laura said.
This year, the DA's Season of Giving program, which has been giving back for about 20 years, provided toys and other items to 35 families across Riverside County.