PATTERSON — As Congress and the president engage in a political showdown over the fiscal cliff, Rebecca Furtado faced her own personal economic crisis and was pulled back from the edge with the help of strangers.
The 32-year-old Patterson resident had been out of work since January and relying on her unemployment to support her and her husband. With its impending cutoff Monday, she was worried she couldn't pay their bills or rent and could become homeless. But instead, Furtado found a new job and the generosity of a community just in time for Christmas.
Furtado was featured in The Bee earlier this month as one of about 400,000 Californians slated to lose their unemployment benefits at the end of December, when the federal extensions expire. Her story, and fear of ending up homeless, moved some in the community to reach out to her.
After her plight was published, the manager of the new Wal-Mart Supercenter opening in Patterson contacted her and asked if she had applied for a position. Luckily, she had, and she received an interview shortly thereafter.
She began her new job as a supervisor at the retail giant less than a week before Christmas. Her husband, Steven, who also recently lost his farming job, also was hired and will start in January.
"It really saved us," Furtado said. "I didn't expect it. It hadn't happened in a whole year of putting in applications and résumés and not onesingle call. So this was just awesome."
Wal-Mart management did not return calls for comment.
Her new job wasn't the only call Furtado got. Other companies also contacted her, asking her to apply for positions. And community members offered opportunities and, in one case, to pay her rent.
Julie and Craig Edling of Waterford read about the Furtados and wanted to help. Every Christmas, the family picks a family or person to help out for the season. Furtado and her husband's story caught the Edlings' attention, and they reached out.
The Edlings paid the Furtados' $550 rent, with an extra $50 for other bills.
"It wasn't that (the Furtados') story was so different than many others," Julie Edling said. "But it was her story, and God put it on our heart to do something for them. It was kind of heart-wrenching, you know, with this economy and people losing their jobs."
Generosity at just the right time
The Edlings also have known the help of a community. Two years ago, their daughter suffered an aneurysm and townspeople from Waterford came together and held a fund-raiser for her. So this was another way the family could pay that generosity forward.
"People have really opened their hearts to us and gave us another reason to reach back to the community to thank them," Julie Edling said.
For the Furtados, the Edlings' generosity came at just the right time. They had enough money to pay for December's rent but weren't sure if they would have enough to make rent in time for January, even with the prospect of full-time work at Wal-Mart.
"That was such a big blessing," Rebecca said. "It brings me to tears because there are still people out there who are caring like that. That's what made our Christmas right there that and the jobs. That was better than having any gifts under the tree."
The Furtados ended up not exchanging gifts themselves, though they did manage small presents for their parents as thanks.
The Wal-Mart Supercenter won't open until Jan. 23, but Rebecca Furtado is busy as a zone merchandise supervisor. Steven Furtado was hired as an unloader and will start next month. She is making $2.30 more an hour than she did at her last job in medical billing. He will start near minimum wage.
Rebecca said she is grateful for all the opportunities but still feels the pain of people less fortunate who will be left with only worry after their last unemployment check comes.
"I very much sympathize for them," she said. "I was in the same shoes. I had the same fears; I knew it was coming. I wish I could do more for other people in that position now. I'm very grateful. We couldn't have our house, we couldn't have anything without this help. We'll be doing decent soon, and I'm hoping I can pay some of this forward as well."
She advised those still looking for work to not give up, keep applying and keep talking to people. A job could be out there.
"At work, people have asked me how was Christmas," she said. "I said we didn't do anything. I told them, I've already been given the best gift. I have a job, I can't ask for much more."