’I feel like there’s an angel looking over me’: The Auto & Tire Doctor helps local woman in need
Heidi Jimenez has been through an unimaginable 2020.
COVID-19 forced her to leave her job in order to spend time with her children, and a broken down car meant she relied on friends for rides.
But all of that pales to the pain and guilt left from the death of her 11-month-old daughter.
“Our life basically has been hell,” said Jimenez.
Last March Jimenez was working as a receptionist at Tahoe Forest Health System’s urgent care site in Tahoe City. Due to the outbreak of COVID-19 and being in the health care industry, her children had been staying with their grandparents in Carson City. As time went on, the distance between the family’s home in Tahoe Vista and her in-laws in Carson City became too great, so Jimenez decided to leave her job in favor of more time with her two sons and daughter.
“Finally, in early June, I was like, ‘I’m done. I need to have my kids here. I just miss them,’” she said. “And so I brought them back.”
Soon after, however, the unthinkable happened.
While in someone else’s care, Jimenez’s 11-month-old daughter died, she said.
“I have a lot of guilt thinking if I would have just left them (in Carson City), everything might have been fine,” said Jimenez. “I still talk to my daughter’s urn and I’m just like, ‘Please help me stay strong.’”
As the family mourned a tragedy no parent should have to endure, bills began piling up and car problems arose. Eventually Jimenez had to sell her vehicle, and for the past few months has had to rely on rides from friends and family for everything from trips to the grocery store to doctor appointments.
Family steps in
In the midst of the darkness brought on this past year, a member of Jimenez’s family was able to shine some light this holiday season.
Irene Rojas, a cousin of Jimenez, was scrolling through social media when she stumbled upon a post from The Auto & Tire Doctor promoting its annual holiday car giveaway.
Rojas soon penned a letter to the business, pouring out an emotional plea to help her cousin.
As the team from The Auto & Tire Doctor combed through more than 100 nominations, Rojas’ words on her cousin jumped out.
“The way her cousin wrote the story was just heart wrenching to me. She had everybody crying,” said Jodi DeRuise, manager and organizer of the annual car giveaway. “We just wanted to be able to help her.”
The outbreak of COVID-19 slowed business at The Auto & Tire Doctor this past year, and the company wasn’t planning on its usual holiday car giveaway. But at the last moment a 2010 Subaru Forester came in, and crew from The Auto & Tire Doctor set about fixing the vehicle, dropping roughly $8,000 into repairs that included a new engine.
“We were ready to shut our doors in March because nobody was traveling and we had no business,” she said. “But we ended up with this car at the last minute.”
‘Something so big’
It’s early Monday morning in Tahoe Vista and Jimenez’s phone lights up with her cousin’s name.
Rojas asks Jimenez to join her on a trip to Truckee, and as the two arrive she makes a detour to Safeway to pick up some chocolates for a gift.
“As we’re driving up I see the car with a big red bow on it, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God, that lucky person,’” said Jimenez.
As the two made their way into the store and toward the candy aisle a voice came over the speakers — “Heidi, can you please come to the front, we have a surprise for you.”
Thinking the call was for someone else with the same first name, Jimenez thought little of the announcement. Then a second call came over the speakers.
“I saw these two elves waving me down,” said Jimenez. “Then they brought me up to customer service and I was like, ‘Maybe I won a gift certificate or something.’”
Something more than gift certificate awaited Jimenez, and as she was guided past customer service and outside she began seeing cell phones held out to record video. Then she spotted her two sons and the reality of what was happening set in.
“They were like, ‘Here’s your car,’” said Jimenez. “There’s no words of how thankful and grateful I am for this — to have someone think of me during these times, to do something so big, and choose me out of all of the nominees that they have … I feel like there’s an angel looking over me.”
While there’s little that can ease the pain of the past year, Jimenez said she’s touched by the outreach from her cousin and the community.
“My year has been horrible, and this definitely put some whip cream and a cherry on top,” she said.
Along with the car she was given gift cards and other items from local businesses like Office BOSS, O’Reilly Auto Parts, and Napa Auto Parts.
“I just want to send a huge shout out to everybody that made this happen — to my cousin, to The Auto Doctor for choosing me, to everybody that has been there to support our family during this time,” said Jimenez. “To have people come out and support us during this, it means the world to us. I feel like we’re just a huge community and that we’re here to help each other.”
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2643.
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I-80 eastbound chain controls have been dropped according to Caltrans. I-80 westbound is still R-2 from Truckee to Rainbow Road.