By John Philip Wyllie
With the lights of Tijuana shimmering in the distance and the sounds of local pop duo Michael Pulido and Lawrence Ortiguerra filling the crisp December air, a group of over 100 individuals came together Saturday night on the patio of Starbuck’s Sunbow Plaza coffee shop at 605 East Palomar in Chula Vista. These patrons had a lot more than music and java on their minds. Their thoughts were singularly focused on the plight of baby Sara Schonhoff.
Born prematurely last year and weighing just three pounds 10 ounces, Sara came into the world with an assortment of medical problems. Life has been a struggle from day one for young Sara. Diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, the daughter of Brian and Kelly Schonhoff has already overcome several major hurdles during her short life. Now she is in desperate need of a liver transplant.
When Starbucks district manager Hector Ibarra learned the story of Baby Sara from Bonita Road Starbucks manager Angela Strau-wald, he decided to get the company involved.
“The Schonhoff’s are regular customers of ours at our Bonita Road store,” Ibarra said. “Angela Strauwald, the manager there felt it in her heart that Starbucks should try to do something to help them. She asked me if we could help spread the word and distribute informational bulletins about Sara’s plight and the family’s ordeal at several area Starbucks stores. It was very easy to say yes. This is not only a great cause, but what Starbucks is all about. Starbucks does a lot of things for the communities that we do business in. This has been a grassroots effort with Angela deserving a lot of the credit.”
With Ibarra and Strauwald spearheading the fund-raising effort, 21 local Starbucks outlets donated to a trust fund set up for Baby Sara and declared December 10 as “Baby Sara Day”. The stores collected over $5,100 in just one day. Then on December 18, the company organized a benefit concert and silent auction to raise additional funds.
If a donor can be found, Baby Sara’s liver transplant will take place at the world- renowned UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. Her recovery period is expected to last anywhere from eight weeks to three months. Her parents, already packed and ready to leave for L.A. on moments notice, plan to stay nearby throughout her recovery and will therefore be out of work for an extended period. That will create an enormous financial burden which in turn explains the need to raise funds. One option would be to stay at the Ronald McDonald House in Los Angeles.
Ronald McDonald House offers families like the Schonhoffs very low cost or if need be free accommodations when they are in dire need. McDonald’s has teamed up with local recyclers to generate funds through the collection of aluminum can pop tops. The Starbucks outlet located at 5030 Bonita Road at the intersection of Central Avenue is therefore seeking the donation of these pop tops as well as monetary donations on behalf of the Schonhoff family.
“Mr. Ibarra put together everything here tonight with this benefit concert and silent auction,” said grateful father, Brian Schonhoff. “Starbucks has been wonderful from the employees right down to its customers,” added his wife, Kelly. “To us, they are no longer just a coffeehouse, they are now part of our family.” For additional information please contact Angela Strauwald at 479-0671.