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Support pours in for Paso Robles girl after theft of donation jar 

Police ask for public’s help in finding suspects who stole cash belonging to young cancer patient Maddy Gonzales

Paso Robles resident Maddy Gonzalez, 6, was diagnosed in the fall of 2013 with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Courtesy photo.

Paso Robles resident Maddy Gonzalez, 6, was diagnosed in the fall of 2013 with acute lymphocytic leukemia.            Courtesy photo.

When a jar filled with cash was stolen from Bronco Burger in Paso Robles, the restaurant owners and customers were shocked and dismayed. This was not an ordinary jar sitting on the counter for the purpose of leaving a tip – this was a special jar, filled with heartfelt notes and monetary donations for a very special little girl, 6-year-old Madelyn “Maddy” Gonzales.

Diagnosed in the fall of 2013 with acute lymphocytic leukemia, Maddy travels frequently with her family – mom, dad, and older sister – to Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital for treatments. The stolen jar of cash, filled with donations from community members, would have helped to offset some of the expenses incurred by the family.

“I was sad when I found out,” Jessica Gonzales said. “Just to know that there’s people out there that would do something like that. I’m not naïve, and I know things like this happen, but when it directly affects my daughter, well, it’s just sad.”

And what was Maddy’s reaction when she heard the news a few days later?

“She said ‘That’s just stupid!’ when I told her what had happened,” Gonzales said. “Then she said she was sorry for using a bad word; she doesn’t like saying ‘stupid.’ She’s a sweet little girl and for this theft to happen was just not right.”

A donation jar filled with cash for Maddy Gonzalez was stolen from Bronco Burgers on Golden Hill Road.  PRDN photo.

A donation jar filled with cash for Maddy Gonzalez was stolen from Bronco Burgers on Golden Hill Road.

Customer chases thieves

According to Bronco Burger Manager Alejandre Adame, a young male and a female walked into the restaurant on Golden Hill Road on Feb. 6 and, while an employee assisted a customer, they grabbed the donation jar from the counter, ran to a white Taurus sedan waiting outside, and sped off as a customer chased the pair.

Adame, the daughter of Bronco Burger owners Javier and Evelia, described the female thief as being tall, skinny, and dark-skinned with short, dark hair and the male as Hispanic, with long hair and glasses.

“It was busy when this happened; we had a full restaurant,” Adame said. “I still can’t believe it. It was scary and, to take something belonging to a little girl is terrible.”

The Adame and Gonzales families are close friends and the Adames have kept a donation jar on their restaurant counter since hearing the news of Maddy’s diagnosis. Collections are given to the family on a continual basis.

Maddy’s mom said the donations help with necessities – treatment, travel – and also allow the purchase of small toys or outings that keep her daughter smiling through her cancer treatment. But it’s more than just the cash that makes the donations so special, Jessica said, it’s the feeling that comes with knowing others care about her little girl.

Community support pours in

Since news of the theft has spread through the community, there has been a renewed outpouring of support for Maddy and her family.

Maddy Gonzalez, Paso Robles

Maddy Gonzalez travels frequently with her to Santa Barbara’s Cottage Hospital for cancer treatments. Courtesy photo.

“The response has been amazing,” Adame said. “People are bringing in small gifts, teddy bears, cards; it’s really nice to see everyone caring for Maddy.”

Gonzales said that Maddy’s Facebook community page, www.facebook.com/teammaddy which was already brimming with support before the theft, has gained an even stronger following since news of the incident at Bronco Burger occurred. People throughout the state and nation, as well as across the world – United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Ireland, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Philippines – have sent offers of financial and emotional support.

“It’s been extremely overwhelming, in a great way,” Gonzales said. “I hope one day I will have a chance to sit down and write a thank you note to each and every person that has helped Maddy and our family in one way or another.”

Finding extra time these days is nearly impossible for the Gonzales family as they often split their time between Paso Robles and sometimes week-long stays at Cottage Hospital. Work, cancer treatments, and daily obligations keep this family on the go. Through it all, their attitude remains positive.

“I am so grateful,” Gonzales said. “I just want to thank everyone. With so much going on in their own lives – everyone has their own struggles – they continue to take the time to stop and show Maddy that there are people out there that are very special.”

Since her diagnosis, Maddy has been physically unable to attend her kindergarten classes at Almond Acres Charter Academy in San Miguel. That has not stopped her classmates and her teacher, Mrs. Brabenec, from keeping Maddy involved and part of group.

“Her teacher calls her weekly, involves her in things like the Valentine’s activities, and keeps her in the loop,” Gonzalez said, adding that Maddy has a home health teacher as well.

Maddy Gonzalez, cancer treatments

Maddy Gonzales often splits her time between Paso Robles and sometimes week-long stays at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara. Courtesy photo.

Suspects at large

As of publication time, the case remains unsolved, according to Lt. Tim Murphy of the Paso Robles Police Department.

“Unfortunately, there are no status updates and we have no active leads,” Murphy said.

The public is encouraged to report anyone matching the suspects’ descriptions riding in a matching vehicle by calling PRPD dispatch at (805) 237-6464.

More information

For more information on Maddy Gonzales and how to lend support, visit her community page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teammaddy or send an email to jjmgonzalez@charter.net. Donations are accepted at www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/help-maddy-kick-cancer/136288; at Bronco Burger, located at 1925 Golden Hill Road in Paso Robles, and at any Golden One Credit Union branch in SLO County under Maddy’s name.

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About the author: Reporter Meagan Friberg

Meagan Friberg is a reporter for the Paso Robles Daily News and A-Town Daily News.