Oakland has certainly had more than its fair share of crime lately, but it seems particularly unfair that a church youth group from Oakland went all the way across the country only to be robbed in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The locals in South Florida were not about to let this church group go without showing them the best that community has to offer. When $12,000 vanished out of their rental van yesterday, the group was stranded with no way to pay for hotels and food. Once their plight became a news story, Floridians came to the rescue.
The group of 24 teenagers and young adults set off Thursday with high hopes for an exciting, fulfilling adventure -- a trip from their church in Oakland to a Christian Youth Conference in Fort Lauderdale. But within hours of arrival, they were crushed to find $12,000 cash, their luggage and the adult leaders' passports stolen out of their rental van while they had lunch.
"We're out here many miles from home with no one to contact or ask for help," said Christie Briseno, a church group member.
The group from Oakland's Wings of Love Maranatha Ministries had each brought cash to cover expenses. It was consolidated by the group leaders and they say they were on their way from the airport to the bank when they decided to stop for lunch. Strangers and a loan from home helped get them through the night and then today their despair turned to shock and relief when a local businessman came to their rescue.
"I have a little something for you here... I have $15,000," said Joe Rodriguez, a Florida businessman.
"We kept our hopes up and we know God used him to bring this to us, so thank you so much," said Marilyn Dulay, an Oakland church group member.
In addition to that stunning gift, Florida resident Joe Linder treated the group to lunch at Applebee's.
"I'm a newshound, so I went on my web browser and saw there was a story and read it, and thought someone has to help these people," said Linder.
The group is supposed to come home Monday night. The adult leaders' ID was stolen from the van, and the biggest concern right now is whether they will be able to get on the plane to make that trip home.