40 Santas Save Christmas for Ailing Boy and Family

Times Staff Writer

Because of the generosity of strangers, Christmas came early last week for a 4-year-old Long Beach boy with leukemia.

Little Ricky Sanchez had lost his pet cockateel, Fred, in a burglary last month. But today, Ricky--who lives in the Carmelitos Housing Project with his mother, Naomi, and brother, David, 5--is smiling. In the spirit of Christmas, Ricky was given another cockateel and the family received $142 to buy Christmas presents. The gifts came from the Long Beach Police Department, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office and the county Probation Department.

Detective Paul Bowman said more than 40 persons in the three offices chipped in to help the Sanchez family. The new gray, yellow and orange bird was donated by Det. Jack Pletka, who raises cockateels, said Bowman, who is in charge of the burglary investigation.

"Seeing them smile made our Christmas," Bowman added.

Ricky's mother, Naomi Sanchez, said that Fred "was very noisy, but he was special" to Ricky, and the youngster was brokenhearted when the bird was stolen. The family also lost about $100 in cash, $200 worth of food and $200 in jewelry, detectives said.

"I can't believe people are so kind. I'm in shock, " said Naomi Sanchez, 27. "People come in and take from us when we have little or nothing. Then we get this. This is really nice. So great."

The new bird "only whistles a little. But every time he does, Ricky smiles," she said.

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