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La Cabana Family Update: Some Good News, Much Community Love, and So Many Questions

La Cabana Mexican Restaurant photo by Doni Chamberlain

It’s been two days since a pre-dawn fire destroyed the east-Redding home of La Cabana Mexican Restaurant owners Matilde and Jesus Manzo.

The 66-year-old couple, parents to seven adult children and grandparents to 19, were flown to the burn unit at UC Davis Medical Center. That’s where they are now.

In a pre-COVID world, you can bet that the hospital’s waiting rooms and parking lots would overflow with dozens of Manzo family members, taking turns visiting and comforting the Manzo patriarch and matriarch; praying, sitting quietly, and staying as long as the hospital rules would allow.

But we’re in the pandemic reality. And while many hospitals subscribe to a current coronavirus-era zero-visitor policy, the good news for the Manzo family is the Sacramento hospital has allowed two Manzo names on its visitor roster. One of the eldest Manzo daughters is allowed limited visitation to see the mother. Another sister is allowed to see the father. But neither of the sisters can swap and see the other parent, and none of the other siblings are allowed in. Just those two sisters.

Despite that, the Manzo family is grateful for even the limited access because it allows the sisters to deliver updates to the rest of the family, updates such as this morning’s that one of the sisters asked that I pass along to you: Both parents are gradually improving. Each is in better condition than when they arrived at the hospital Wednesday morning, airlifted from Mercy Medical Center in Redding to Sacramento.

The Manzo daughter apologized for not having more details to report, but she said the most important thing is that there’s improvement.

“The prayers are working,” she said.

The family feels so conflicted. On the one hand they feel grateful beyond measure for the outpouring of community concern. On the other hand they feel guilty for not keeping up with emails and phone calls. The Manzos are extremely humble, private people; givers by nature. They’re feeling overwhelmed by requests for information and details.

The doorless view into the remains of the Manzo home. Photos by Doni Chamberlain

So many questions …

Here’s the short list of some of the questions posed to the Manzo family, with some answers:

How are the parents doing? Better than when they were first admitted to the hospital Wednesday morning.

How long will the parents be hospitalized? Until doctors decide it’s safe for the parents to be discharged.

When will La Cabana reopen? The family hasn’t decided yet. Right now their primary focus is on the parents’ welfare. Collectively, they’re worried, scrambled and in a state of shock and constant worry for their parents. Plus, there’s so much to deal with right now, such as insurance issues and the burned house.

Are the Manzos accepting donations of clothes, household goods, etc? No, not at the moment, but thank you for asking. (There’s no place to store donations right now, anyway.)

The east Redding home of Matilde and Jesus Manzo was destroyed in an early morning Wednesday fire.

Questions for Doni

I’ve received my share of FAQ’s, too, mainly about the GoFundMe account for the Manzos. (Click here to visit the Manzo Family Fire Fund GoFundMe page.)

Why did you create the GoFundMe account? Because within a few hours of the fire hundreds of people were clamoring for ways to give. I would have loved to have mentioned such an account in the Wednesday story, and would have gladly been among those who contributed to an existing account, but there wasn’t one. Typically, it’s not considered kosher for journalists to take the lead to set up an account like this, especially related to a story like this one, which I understand and agree with. But there’s nothing typical about Food for Thought/A News Cafe, so I’ll let that one go.  I own it. I’m the publisher. I have the ruby slippers.

How many other GoFundMe accounts have you created? Zero. This is my first.

What if I want to help, but I hate GoFundMe? So many ways to give! You can send checks to La Cabana, in care of La Cabana Mexican Restaurant, 1335 Market St., Redding, 96001. You can send gift cards, even Visa gift cards, or Amazon gift cards. But one of the most important ways to give is to support the restaurant as a regular, loyal customer once La Cabana reopens.

One of the reasons I hate GoFundMe is it takes a big percentage of the donations, right? Actually, that may have been true in the past, but the current GoFundMe system allows donors to choose what percentage to give. There’s a list of choices, from 5% on up, but there’s also the “other” option, which is what I selected. It’s possible to select zero, which many of you have done, and that’s fine. (But I chose 3%, because I am grateful for this fundraising platform.)

What about the youngest Manzo daughter and her two little boys, who lost everything in the fire? Can I donate my gently used clothes and toys to them? Again, thank you so much, but please, no. A much better way to give is in the form of gift cards at places where she and her children can select their own clothes, shoes and toys.

Where will the GoFundMe money go? Into a special bank account with the Manzos’ name on it.

How will the money be used? That’s up to the Manzos. But when one considers the expenses related to the fire and the destruction of the family home, and everything in it, including the parents’ lifetime of belongings, and those belonging to their youngest daughter and her children; and the uncovered medical costs, $12,000 is a drop in the bucket.

Will you cut off the GoFundMe account when it’s reached $12,000? No way. I hope that amount continues to grow. I’m as curious as anyone to see how high it goes. In my dreams some rich person buys the Manzos a brand new house big enough for their huge family and all those gatherings, but that would probably compromise their insurance claim, so scratch that.

How much has currently been raised? As of this writing, $11,290 has been donated. Just writing that amount brings tears to my eyes.

Are you surprised by the amount that’s been donated so far? Yes! When I opened the account, a GoFundMe tutorial suggested starting with a base amount, like $1,000. I had really hoped for more, so I thought I’d shoot high: $12,000. I have to say, I am blown away, and so pleased by the incredible generosity shown to the Manzos, especially considering the fact that so many people are struggling during this pandemic. It’s evidence of people’s goodness, but also testimony of how beloved the Manzo family is.

How did you arrive at the goal amount of $12,000? I really thought about it, and decided upon $12,000; $1,000 to represent every month of this entire lousy year.

Will you keep us updated about Matilde and Jesus Manzo, as well was when La Cabana re-opens? 

Absolutely.

What if I don’t have money but still want to help? The GoFundMe account was never the Manzos’ idea, but the community’s. I hope they can realize that it’s not charity, but a way for people to give, and an expression of concern and love.

All the Manzo family has ever asked for is prayers, and they mean it. If you believe in prayer, then please pray. Light a candle. Send a card. Think good thoughts. Whatever works for you and your beliefs. No matter what you do, know that every kind gesture, every positive wish, every prayer;  the Manzos are eternally grateful for them all.

Doni Chamberlain

Doni Chamberlain

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.

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