Pickleball Angels bring unexpected gifts, including payment for 13 months of rent, to Goleta family
“This is the best day of my life!”
That’s what a 3-year-old boy said during an unexpected visit from the Pickleball Angels, Unity Shoppe and Transition House, who brought him and his 11-year-old brother early Christmas presents.
It also proved to be a great day for their mother, Eyleen Mendez. The Pickleball Angels presented her with a $12,386 check to pay the family’s rent for the next 13 months at a Goleta apartment complex that provides affordable housing for low-income families.
The check and the visit on Wednesday evening were a total surprise for Ms. Mendez, who cleans rooms at a hotel and residents’ homes.
The Pickleball Angels — residents Elon Zilberman, David Peterson, John Sanford and David Wilcox, who all like to play pickleball in the Santa Barbara area — launched a GoFundMe page and raised more than $12,700 to help one family in need this Christmas.
Minus GoFundMe’s processing fees, that left $12,386, which proved to be more than enough to pay for Ms. Mendez’ rent through the end of 2023, Mr. Zilberman told the News-Press.
He added that the Pickleball Angels had money leftover and used the rest to buy Ms. Mendez a $282 gift card for Target, which has stores in Goleta and Santa Barbara.
Mr. Zilberman said they were assisted by Cynthia Hooper, director of operations at Unity Shoppe, a nonprofit that provided the men with a list of families in need. After discussing the list, the four men agreed they would help Ms. Mendez and her sons.
Unity Shoppe also donated Christmas gifts for the boys, and the 3-year-old boy was thrilled to get a box of LEGOS. Mr. Zilberman said Transition House, a Santa Barbara nonprofit, also assisted with the surprise.
“To see the look on the kids’ faces,” Mr. Zilberman said. “This 3-year-old kid said this is the best day of his life.”
Ms. Mendez doesn’t speak English, but the look on her face expressed her joy. (A Transition House representative acted as the interpreter.)
“She was, honestly, in shock,” Mr. Zilberman said. “She was smiling. She was very thankful.”
The effort to help a family started when Mr. Zilberman, who lives in Montecito, asked himself a question.
“Santa Barbara is such a tight knit community. It dawned on me, ‘Why can’t we come together and raise money and help a family in need?’ ” Mr. Zilberman said.
So he talked to his fellow pickleball player, Mr. Peterson, who owns the two McDonald’s restaurants in Goleta and is the son of the late Herb Peterson, who invented the Egg McMuffin.
“David was an important person because a) of everyone he knows and b) the trust he has in the community,” Mr. Zilberman said.
Mr. Peterson and Mr. Zilberman worked with Mr. Wilcox and Mr. Sanford, forming the Pickleball Angels and starting a GoFundMe page.
In addition to the money that the GoFundMe page raised, Mr. Peterson gave $500 worth of McDonalds gift cards to Ms. Mendez, Mr. Zilberman said.
Mr. Zilberman said Ms. Mendez and her children were a formerly homeless family that received help from Transition House, which provided them with shelter, helped them to find affordable housing and continues to assist them.
Ms. Mendez, who has car payments on top of other expenses, clearly appreciated the unexpected Christmas gifts.
Said Mr. Zilberman, “Seeing the kids and the excitement — that’s what it’s all about.”