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A home for the holidays and beyond
Freitas home 1
Jason Freitas, Miranda Stevens and their children move into their new home Wednesday thanks to the help of Turlock Police Lt. Neil Cervenka, Justin and Aileen Crone of Letters to Santa (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

For one Turlock family the Christmas season continued into the new year as they were helped into a home thanks to a community effort led by the charity Letters to Santa.

On Jan. 15, Miranda Stevens and Jason Freitas, along with their three children moved into a home after living in their vehicle off and on for the last two years.

“The Letters to Santa charity put so much time, effort and love into helping our family,” said Stevens. “A simple thank you cannot express our gratitude.”

The journey from vehicle to home began on Christmas Eve when the Letters to Santa organization learned the family was in need and likely to spend the holidays at Broadway Park. Letters to Santa, started by Turlock resident and Modesto firefighter Justin Crone, initially began as a way to give children in need a gift for Christmas. Since the inception a few years ago, the charity’s outreach has grown substantially. This past Christmas the charity sponsored more than 1,700 local children from 14 schools in the region.

Freitas home 2
Aileen Crone and Jim Laforti help get the home ready for the family to move into (CANDY PADILLA/The Journal).

“Each child receives a new coat, shoes, socks, undergarments, pants, shirt and a toy. In addition, each family receives a turkey dinner for Christmas,” Crone said.

Typically, the charity’s board selects one or two families to help with some extra effort. By Christmas Eve, the families had already been selected and the gifts doled out, but it was felt this family would really benefit from some help, Crone said.

“While working at the fire department Neil Cervenka [a lieutenant with the Turlock Police Department] told me that Turlock Police Department had made contact with this family and they were identified as a family in need,” Crone said. “So, we immediately contacted our board of directors and did an emergency vote to be able to start helping this family right away.

“Our board did not want them to spend the holidays in their vehicle so we put them up in a hotel through the holidays,” Crone said. “At that point their vehicle had broken down. E & M Auto in Turlock is a close friend to Letters to Santa charity. We contacted them and they repaired the vehicle at a very reasonable price. TAPO [Turlock Associated Police Officers] members had chipped in to help with the fees.”

The entire family was given gifts to open, but the charity wanted to find a way to help the family on a more permanent level and began the work of finding them a place to live.

“We were hoping to find someone who was willing to take a chance on this wonderful family,” Crone said. “The fact they have a modest income and had rented before we really felt they could handle rent again at the right price. We just needed someone willing to take a chance on them.”

The charity found that ‘someone’ in New Bridge Management, who agreed to rent a property to the family. We Care Turlock’s rapid re-housing program helped cover the upfront costs like the deposit and first month’s rent.

“After contacting New Bridge Management and them agreeing to take a chance on this family we immediately went to Facebook,” Crone said. “After just one post explaining the situation, we had an overwhelming response. So many local people wanted to help. In fact, we had more things donated than we needed. It made it great to give us options that best fit their needs and the size of the home. We rented a U-Haul and drove all over the county picking up beds and mattresses for each family member. We also picked up a washer and dryer, a new refrigerator, two couches, a TV stand, a TV, two dressers, a rocking chair, some home décor items, dishes, pots and pans and bathroom items. Letters to Santa bought all new bedding for all the beds, new pillows, an area rug, groceries to fill their new refrigerator and their cabinets, some TV trays and some basic home needs. 

“The overwhelming response we received from the community was completely humbling,” Crone said. “Everyone was trying to find all of the items we were requesting to make this family’s new house a home. We even had a local real estate team, Donny and Jennifer Sanchez, donate a brand-new refrigerator. The words thank you cannot possibly be big enough to express the gratitude we all feel to everyone who helped in this awesome venture to make this family’s dreams come true. My favorite moment was when I had the opportunity to hand this family their new house keys and tell them welcome home.”

For Stevens and Freitas, it was an equally gratifying moment.

“Letters to Santa helped our dreams come true and the Christmas magic they created will last us a lifetime,” Stevens said. “We are forever so thankful to them and all their loving and caring members who have made an amazing change in our life. We love our new home. We look forward to raising our family here.”