A jar of cash donated to a 6-year-old cancer patient was stolen from a Paso Robles restaurant late last week, sparking outrage among residents.
“I was just blown away. It’s hard to wrap your mind around somebody taking something from a child who’s fighting for her life every day,” said Jessica Gonzales, mother of kindergartner Madelyn Gonzales. “For her, (the donations are) a little bit of happiness.”
In October, Madelyn, who goes by Maddy, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a type of cancer affecting the blood and bone marrow, and most commonly found in children.
For the past two months, Maddy and her mother Jessica Gonzales, her older sister, and her father have been making the weekly trip from their home in Paso Robles to Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara for Maddy’s weekly treatments. The treatments, plus the continuous travel and other associated costs, take a heavy financial toll.
On Thursday afternoon, a young male and a female walked into Bronco Burger in the 1900 block of Golden Hill Road in Paso Robles. After an employee turned her back to assist a customer, the pair snatched a donation jar for Maddy off the counter and fled into a vehicle waiting outside, which quickly sped off.
According to Alejandra Adame, an assistant manager of Bronco Burger who witnessed the incident, the young female is tall, skinny, dark-skinned with short, dark hair. The male is described as younger, about 17 years old, Hispanic, with long hair and glasses. There is no surveillance footage, although a witness who chased the pair outside the building said they fled in a white Taurus sedan. The witness did not get a license plate number.
“She just grabbed the jar, turned around and ran,” Adame said. “It’s horrible. How can you take from a little girl? It’s insane.”
The restaurant’s owner, a close friend of the Gonzales family, delivered the sad news to Jessica Gonzales the next day. She said Tuesday that it’s unlikely the thieves made off with much money—somewhere around $30—since she collected what was previously in the jar as recently as the previous Monday.
She said the little extra money donated by the community not only helps the family afford necessities like Maddy’s treatment, but allows them to afford little things for her—a toy or movie here and there—to help keep her spirits up and make a frightening process a little more bearable for a child.
“It may not be much, but she really enjoys running in to see how much she raised,” Gonzales added. “People will put letters and little notes to her in there and she loves reading them. I just can’t fathom it.”
Next week, Maddy will begin a second phase of treatment that will require her to stay in the hospital five days at a time, every 12 days.
“This is going to be very hard on her,” Jessica Gonzales said.
Paso Robles Police Department Lt. Tim Murphy said Tuesday afternoon that officers have not made any arrests in the case, but remain on the lookout for people matching the suspects’ descriptions riding in a matching vehicle.
He said thefts of donation jars occasionally happen within the city but that there is no information linking this incident with any other crimes. He added that anyone accepting donations make frequent drops to ensure there is not a large sum in the receptacle at any given time.
“When you’re seeking donations, every penny helps,” Murphy said. “But that will reduce the chance of someone taking it, or at least minimize a loss if they do.”
Anyone wanting to learn more about Maddy Gonzales can view her community page on Facebook at facebook.com/teammaddy.
Anyone wishing to make a donation to her treatment is encouraged to do so at Bronco Burger, or at any of Golden One Credit Union’s three San Luis Obispo County branches; 852 Foothill Boulevard in San Luis Obispo, 8727 El Camino Real in Atascadero, and 128 Niblick Road in Paso Robles where an account has been opened in her name.
Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call the Paso Robles Police Department at 237-6464.