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Manhattan Beach Stories: Whatever Happened With...?

Jan 05, 2021 04:26PM ● By Jeanne Fratello
So many amazing and noteworthy news stories happened in Manhattan Beach in 2020.

As 2021 begins, DigMB checked back in on some the most popular stories of 2020 to see where things ended up, and where they're headed:

Fundraiser for Rico

Back in October, beloved Shellback Tavern manager Rico De Alba and his wife prepared to adopt five children of a family member who died from COVID-19 - in addition to their own four children. Learning of his story, the Manhattan Beach community rallied in support. 

A fundraiser for De Alba and his new family of 11 has since raised $92,315 of its $100,000 goal, and the De Albas' adoption of the five children is now finalized.

"[The adoption] is all settled - now it’s just, 'Move forward.' De Alba told DigMB this week.  "It feels amazing having a community like this."

In addition to the GoFundMe, De Alba's family received an outpouring of gifts, including shoes and backpacks for the whole family from Skechers.

"You get overwhelmed," De Alba said. "I wasn’t expecting so much - and all of a sudden it was everybody, left and right...people brought presents for the kids...It's just so great to have that feeling."

The family is settling in to new routines, but with one new heartbreak - De Alba's mother-in-law died of COVID-19 the day before Christmas at age 56. She had been a major source of support for the family. That loss has been extremely difficult, especially on the children, said De Alba. But he reiterated that they continue to consider themselves "blessed" for all of the help they have received.

MB Feeds the Heroes

In March, an idea was hatched to collect donations and purchase meals from downtown Manhattan Beach restaurants to deliver to front-line hospital workers. The thought was that it could be a win-win for supporting both restaurants and frontline workers.

That idea became the program known as MB Feeds the Heroes, a program that has received over $119,000 in donations since March, according to Jill Lamkin, president of the Downtown Manhattan Beach Business and Professionals Association. Those donations have yielded 8,000 meals delivered to frontline healthcare workers at Torrance Memorial and Little Company of Mary hospitals.

"Since we restarted the program in early December we have delivered an additional 250 meals to various COVID units at those hospitals and would love to continue to do so based on donations received, as it supports both the healthcare workers and the downtown restaurants," said Lamkin.

To contribute, visit MB Feeds the Heroes.

Pnina's Gap Year in Israel

Pnina Tofler conducting the National Children's Chorus


In March, we reported on the story of Pnina Tofler, a Mira Costa senior who planned a gap year in Israel to start a community choir in war-torn Sderot, Israel.

Fast-forward to the present day, where Tofler is now in Sderot, but the pandemic and strict lockdown rules have prevented her from starting the choir. Instead she has been giving back to the community in other ways, including creating and delivering gift packages of essential foods for people, since the lockdown prohibits people from traveling more than 1 kilometer from their homes.

Looking ahead, Tofler has decided to join the Israeli army. Her experience in Israel has opened her up to other interests and possibilities, and she “doesn’t want to give up on the part of herself that she found there.” (She noted that American girls are making a lot of leaps and innovations in the Israeli army. The army’s first female fighter pilot is an American female.)

The process of joining the army begins with her being assigned to a kibbutz and set up with a host family. If she gets accepted, she will come home in June, and then head back in August to live with the other lone soldiers (soldiers who do not have immediate family in Israel). She will then coordinate with Garin Tzabar, an organization that provides a support system for lone soldiers and help them to navigate the bureaucracy of getting set up in Israel (bank accounts, accommodations, etc.).

Tofler has chosen to join a specialized combat unit called Oketz, which is the canine unit. She will try out for the Oketz unit in December. If accepted, the commitment is for three years.

She is still committed to pursuing an education after the army, but she is not quite sure yet if that would be in the U.S. or Israel. 

Amazingly, she did not even know Hebrew before arriving in Israel. She is now fluent, speaking Hebrew for the majority of the day, and teaching in Hebrew as well. 

A Near-Fatal Cardiac Arrest

In May, Manhattan Beach was riveted by the story of Chris Barra's near-fatal cardiac arrest and quick life-saving action by Manhattan Beach police and fire personnel. Barra, an Army Ranger and Brigadier General in the Army Reserve, suffered a cardiac event that only has a one percent survival rate outside of a hospital, but doctors credit those skilled on-the-scene interventions with saving his life.

 Barra's wife Lory told DigMB that she and her husband were able to meet with three to five officers at their house for "an emotional thank you," but beyond that they have been waiting for the spread of COVID-19 to calm down so they can host a luncheon for the police and fire personnel and doctors and nurses at Little Company of Mary who helped him on that fateful day.

"Little Company also invited us there to do a video for their gala because our story was so positive and uplifting," added Lory Barra.

In the meantime, Chris Barra had a successful heart stent surgery done at Torrance Memorial and "he is now better then he ever was," she said.

South Bay Citrus

In June, three rising Mira Costa seniors - Jack Crawford, Adam Goldstein, and Jonathan Graves - started a citrus business, picking fruit from Graves' family's ranch and selling it to local customers, including at GROW in Manhattan Beach. Their business, South Bay Citrus, pledged to donate 25 percent of the profits to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.

The boys finished out the season by donating more than 650 meals to the food bank through its profits, Crawford told DigMB this week.

"It is really meaningful to be able to help in the fight against food insecurity during this challenging time," said Crawford.

He added, "We are currently waiting for the new crop of grapefruit, oranges, and limes to ripen and hope to be selling our produce again in February or March."

#CHEWIESTRONG Campaign Signs

In September, the traumatic death of a beloved family pet in Manhattan Beach inspired the O'Deegan family to launch what they called the "ChewieStrong" campaign to get cars to slow down.

 Monika O'Deegan, whose 2-year-old dog, Chewie, was killed on their street by an apparent hit-and-run driver on 1st Street in East Manhattan Beach, created a campaign to spread signs around town that implore drivers to "Slow Down, Save Lives" with the hashtag "ChewieStrong."

O'Deegan told DigMB this week that all told, community members purchased 150 signs and through a "buy one, donate one" effort, 300 signs were delivered around town. (The Healthy Spot in Manhattan Beach was a huge advocate in spreading the word, she noted.)

O'Deegan said that she was disappointed that the efforts did not result in the city making traffic engineering or speed changes on their street or elsewhere. However, she said, "I am forever grateful to the love and support from the community. It makes me so proud to see the signs up all over Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach, Palos Verdes, Torrance, and Hawthorne."

Strand House Holiday Meals

Following the suspension of in-person dining in December, the The Strand House made a generous offer of donating 1,000 holiday meals to unemployed restaurant workers at Christmas.

The Strand House team worked tirelessly to pull together the cooking, orders, and pickups to reach their goal of providing 1,000 holiday meals. All told, the meals fed over 6,000 people.

"It went amazing. The feedback from those who were picking up the meal, the messages on Instagram and emails we received brought tears to our eyes- everyone was so thankful," Jenna Ritter of the Zislis Group told DigMB. "The entire team felt so wonderful about how it went."

Holiday Happy Toy Drive

In early December, Bella Beach Kids owner Kris D'Errico launched the "Holiday Happy Fund," to provide toys to kids of Downtown Manhattan Beach restaurant workers.

All told, the effort resulted in toys being gifted to nearly 100 kids.

According to D'Errico, the gift bags included some practical things and some fun things: a fun washable face mask, a pair of sunglasses from Hang Ten Kids, games for the entire family, soft plush blankets, cozy bath robes, and any number of fun arts/crafts, dolls, cars, and trucks.

"It truly brought the Christmas spirit to life," D'Errico told DigMB. "The families were so appreciative. The smiling faces of the kids. The kinds words from the parents. Our hearts were warmed by their gratitude, as many of the families truly are in need. There were a couple of expecting moms, up to teenagers. We took care of everyone with carefully selected goodies for them all."

Both Heather and Kris D'Errico donned Kris's mom's custom made vintage ski suits to add to the festive atmosphere while playing Santa's Helper.

"We all needed more Holiday Happy this year, and this definitely helped," said D'Errico. "We are so thankful to everyone who donated, and supported the Holiday Happy Toy Drive. We truly have an amazing community."

Manhattan Beach's Sea Lion Pups

The two famous sea lion pups who wandered up to homes at and near the Strand are now in good hands at the Marine Mammal Care Center of Los Angeles and are eating and doing well. The MMCLA expects to keep them for four to eight weeks before they will released back into the ocean.

The MMCLA has set up a GoFundMe fundraiser for their care. At press time, the fundraiser has raised $1,645 of its $10,000 goal. A generous (anonymous) donor has agreed to match all donations dollar for dollar.

SKECHERS Restaurant COVID Relief Fund

As DigMB reported last week, the Skechers Restaurant COVID Relief Fund, launched at the beginning of December, announced last week that it has granted $600,000 to 28 Manhattan Beach restaurants.

“Manhattan Beach never ceases to surprise me with their generosity," said Skechers President Michael Greenberg in a statement. "The endless support and well-wishes pouring in since we announced the Skechers Restaurant COVID Relief Fund has been astounding.

Skechers created the Restaurant COVID Relief Fund as a matching grant program to support struggling Manhattan Beach restaurants, with a pledge to contribute up to $500,000 to the fund.

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