Los Banos women start Facebook page to 'Pay It Forward'

December 21, 2012 

— Good will toward men ramps up annually around the end of the year, and some area women are looking to harness that charitable giving and spread it year-round.

Monica Gallagher's idea is to use Facebook to coordinate the charitable nature of people in Los Banos, and a tragedy this year gave it the final push.

"I wanted something better for Los Banos," the 36-year-old stay-at-home mom said. "I wanted something dedicated to community service; a page where everyone was treated equally."

Gallagher, who moved here five years ago from San Jose, said she had been developing the idea for the Los Banos Community Pay it Forward page for some time and the outpouring of giving and sense of community that followed the death of 10-year-old Jayden Thomas played into its completion. The 10-year-old Volta Elementary School fifth-grader was killed in early November in a vehicle accident that occurred as he was returning home from a football game.

"It just really struck home with a lot of people, and they wanted to help," she said, adding they didn't know how to channel their time or money.

The page developed a calendar where residents provided meals for the Thomas family for the month after the tragedy. The calendar is something Gallagher said will be available in the case of unforeseen local tragedies.

Regular fundraisers and groups like Relay for Life, Empty Bowls and the Los Banos Animal Shelter are already on the page. Gallagher said she also posts shortly before an event starts, so charitable smartphone owners get message reminders.

The page had nearly 850 members Thursday, but Gallagher expects there is room to grow in Los Banos. "It's brand-spanking new and it took off really fast," she said, adding it began Nov. 4, after Jayden was killed.

During Thanksgiving, the page allowed volunteers to coordinate with New Bethany Skilled Nursing and Los Banos Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. She said she has volunteers lined up to serve at those locations Christmas day.

"They take it by private messaging us," Gallagher said. "When the slots are full, they're full; and they're always full."

Gallagher recruited Toni Moreno as a partner in administrating the page, as well as Los Banos transplant to Las Vegas Roxanne Brown. Moreno, the manager of Rooney's Liquor, is involved in fundraisers, like the Angel Tree Project, so she serves as a sort of inside source to community needs.

Moreno, who has been in Los Banos since she was 7, said she has seen the efficacy of the page. She's had Angel Tree visitors who aren't store customers.

"More people are realizing what's going on in town, because we're blasting it on Facebook all day long," the 42-year-old said, adding that social media makes spreading the word easy.

"I don't think signs posted in businesses work anymore," she said. "We're all so fast-paced."

Members post on the wall of the page when they come across someone in need. Recent posts on the page called for an assist for a pregnant woman sleeping in someone's garage. Members came together to provide blankets and clothes anonymously.

Moreno said she was first inspired by the pay-it-forward philosophy after she saw an episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show," where the host challenged her audience to pay forward a gift.

Gallagher said the page is free of ulterior motives and proselytizing. It's a place to carry out the Golden Rule, the women said.

"It's nice to know that we live in a community that we can count on," Gallagher said, "and for other people to get that security as well."

To find the page, login to Facebook and search "Los Banos Community Pay it Forward."

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanosenterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.

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