Firefighters help give holiday hope

COSTA MESA — While responding to a call, firefighter Todd Palombo noticed that a mother of two was in need of more than medical attention.

Firefighters and paramedics were tending to Amanda Ritchie when Palombo found out her 2-year-old, Jordan, sleeps on the couch every night.

Ritchie, her husband and their two daughters moved in with her mother-in-law and grandmother after leaving Idaho a month ago.

For the 10th year, Costa Mesa firefighters played Santa's helpers and distributed gifts, clothing and other necessities to families like Ritchie's.

"I want to cry," Ritchie said as firefighters walked through the door, their hands filled with bags of gifts, clothes, bed sheets and pillows.

School Trustee Katrina Foley joined the firefighters for the fourth year. And for the first time, Foley's son, Sam, 12, tagged along.

"My family could've been any of these families when I was a kid, so it's nice to be able to give back," said Foley, an outgoing councilwoman.

Palombo's two young children and wife, Joelle, were also on hand.

And, of course, Santa was present.

"Santa is so pleased with us and decided to take a break for the day from his work and come spend the day with us," Palombo said.

While at Richie's house, Foley and a couple others noticed Jordan has amblyopia, which causes the so-called "lazy eye" syndrome.

Because the family doesn't have health insurance or enough money to afford treatment, Jordan hasn't had the surgery necessary to correct her eyes, Richie said.

Foley said her sister had the same problem when she was young, and there were people who helped her mother with the funds needed to get the surgery done. To help Jordan, contact Foley at

Throughout the day, the firefighters, Foley and Santa hopped on fire engines and made several stops, including the Motor Inn on Harbor Boulevard, to help 150 families.

Before stopping at Ritchie's home, the firefighters went to the Heritage House in Costa Mesa, a nonprofit that allows pregnant women or mothers of young children to keep them while recovering from substance abuse.

Julia Onate, 26, lives at the Heritage House with her 11-month-old daughter, Anya. She has no family, so without gifts and clothes from firefighters, she and her daughter would have had nothing for Christmas, she said.

Andria Bennett, a drug and alcohol counselor at the Heritage House, could hardly contain her tears.

"A lot of these women and their children haven't known Christmas for years, and this is so special and so magical," she said. "It's such an amazing process and I get to witness it."

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World