OCSD teams with TIP to present $700 to needy woman who has a heart for helping others

By Lou Ponsi

Marianna has just money enough to scrape by month to month.

Yet, she never asks for handouts.

She rents a room in a house in Mission Viejo. She goes to church and takes a bus to do her laundry.

When deputies with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Homeless Outreach Team have offered Marianna services in the past, Marianna thought it more appropriate that she help them.

After a number of contacts with Marianna, Deputy Justin Barba of the OCSD Homeless Outreach Team decided this selfless woman with a giving spirit is deserving of a little extra this holiday season.

It took some doing, but Barba talked Marianna into meeting with him in the parking lot of St. Killian’s Church in Mission Viejo on Dec. 11.

With Deputies Guy Lemieux and Morgen Johnston and Sgt. Josh Dietrich looking on, Barba passed Marianna a white envelope and told her to open it.

Marianna, a Mission Viejo resident who gets by with very little money, chats with OCSD Deputy Justin Barba in the parking lot of St. Killian’s Catholic Church in Mission Viejo. Barba gave Marianna $700 and a white down jacket as part of the OCSD/TIP Secret Santa program. Photo by Lou Ponsi

She looked inside and pulled out seven crisp, new $100 bills.

With a look that that was both incredulous and confused, Marianna asked, “Is this real money?”

Indeed it was.

“You deserve it,” Barba said to her. “You deserve it all.”

The gift came as part of the OCSD’s Secret Santa program, which stems from a partnership between the OCSD and the Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) Orange County, whose trained volunteers in OC work with public safety agencies and hospitals to provide emotional and practical support to victims of tragedies.

Every year, TIP receives a sizable amount of money from an anonymous donor that the nonprofit then gives to the OCSD, with the stipulation that the money be used to help someone in need.

In many cases, the recipients are victims of crime or a family tragedy, but not always.

“I’m offering all this stuff and she just tells me to pray for her,” Barba said, referring to his past contacts with the soft-spoken woman. “Last time she gave me a Band Aid because she saw I had a cut on my finger. Yesterday, she gave me a rosary.”

Barba submitted Marianna’s name for consideration as a Secret Santa beneficiary and got the go-ahead.

“I don’t have any words for this,” Marianna said. “You don’t know what this means to me.”

There was more.

Barba handed Marianna a white, down-filled jacket to help make cold nights more bearable.

The jacket fit perfectly.

Marianna, a Mission Viejo resident with very little money, sports a new white down jacket she received from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department as part of the agency’s Secret Santa program. Standing with Marianna are members of the OCSD homeless outreach team, from left, Deputy Morgen Johnston, Sgt. Josh Dietrich, Deputy Guy Lemieux, Deputy Justin Barba, and Mary Schreiber, a volunteer with Trauma Intervention Program (TIP) Orange County. Photo by Lou Ponsi

“I don’t have to go to bed cold anymore,” she said. “This is the greatest thing I could have ever gotten.”

In addition to singling out specific families and individuals as Secret Santa recipients, deputies spent one day driving around handing out $100 bills to those in need.

“I’m going to pay rent and save the money for a rainy day because you never know what’s going to happen,” said Marianna, when asked how she was going to spend the money. “Before I spend it, I’m going to go to church and pray.”

And being true to her spirit, Marianna couldn’t walk away without sharing some parting thoughts.

“My wish is that everybody stays safe. I’m going to pray for everyone, and I wish I had rosary beads for everyone. Thank you so much for helping me.”

Photo by Lou Ponsi