“I’m in shock,” said Samantha Rodriguez, with a look of disbelief on her face. This was the moment local police officers in Orange County, Florida, told her that members of her local community had chipped in to buy her family a car.
Rodriguez, who is 20, is raising her five younger siblings after both of her parents died from cancer.
She didn’t want to see them taken into care, so she moved to Orange County to be closer to her grandmother and, for the past three years, has been both mum and dad to her siblings who are aged seven to 15 years old, keeping them clothed and fed, and taking them to school.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office presented Rodriguez with the gift after anonymous donors from the community paid for the car to make the school run – and life in general – a little easier for her.
“When they told me the car is for us, I remember thinking, ‘They just took away all these worries and stresses,’” the 20-year-old told CNN. “It was such a big weight off my shoulder and will help so much.”
She said bringing up her siblings has been hard and, addressing the local community at the presentation, said: “I’m so glad to have people like you guys in my life.”
Rodriguez said things can get quite lonely and that striking the balance of knowing when to be a sister and a parent is tough.
In December, the police department learned of the family’s story and invited them to visit the aviation unit, where they had photos taken with the officers and the police helicopter. Staff also bought them lots of Christmas presents to make sure they didn’t go without.
When the local community heard of Rodriquez’s struggles via social media, they also wanted to help, so they pitched in to buy her a Nissan Versa.
The 20-year-old, who works in a restaurant, was invited to the police station not knowing of the surprise that awaited her and her family.
A video shared by the police force showed her driving the new car home and showing it to her siblings, who couldn’t believe what they were seeing. The police force have also set up a crowdfunding page so members of the community can continue to help them financially.
They explained that Rodriguez would love to be able to put a down payment on a house for her and her siblings, take some college classes, and save for her siblings’ education.
Rodriguez said the news didn’t really sink in until a couple of days later. “Everything I plan now for the kids is so much easier,” she said. “I don’t have to call for a ride. I’m very grateful for it. All these people reminded me I’m not alone.”