It’s happening again -- secret Santas stepping forward to pay someone else’s layaway bill for Christmas.
From the Wal-Mart store in San Leandro, customers were getting phone calls over the weekend to come retrieve their purchases after they’ve been paid for by a total stranger.
For Elizabeth Cortez, it means gifts will go under the tree earlier than expected. On Sunday, she showed KTVU the stash, which she had laid out in her car’s trunk.
“My little one loves Power Rangers so I got him the sword,” Cortez said, showing the four play sets she had on layaway for her two children, and her niece and nephew.
She owed a balance of $111 when she got the mysterious call from Wal-Mart.
“A Good Samaritan just paid for you,” said Cortez, recalling the Wal-Mart employee’s words. “I’m like, ‘What?’ I was just surprised.”
She was also surprised to hear the stranger was waiting at the layaway counter, hoping to meet her.
“So I rushed over there, and there were three other ladies, that she had paid as well, and then she paid for others, others as well,” said Cortez.
Cortez said it was an emotional experience for all the families.
“They were very surprised, very grateful,” said Cortez. “We were all in tears.”
A manager at the store says the Good Samaritan closed between ten and twenty accounts, wiping out thousands of dollars owed. She not only paid for toys but other items too, choosing the accounts randomly.
Cortez had never heard of “layaway angels,” but it’s a phenomenon that pops up at different stores across the country around the holiday season
And although the East Bay “angel” wasn’t seeking notoriety, she did pose for a photo with Cortez and another mom she had also just helped. In the group picture, she smiles alongside her daughter. She was accompanied in the store by her husband and two other daughters, as well.
“She just said that she was doing something nice for us,” recalled Cortez, still marveling at what happened. “I said, ‘Thank you.’ I was in shock. She just did it out of the goodness of her heart. And some way, somehow, I’m going to pay it forward as well.”
Wal-Mart says it has tracked about one thousand instances of strangers paying off layaway accounts at its stores this holiday season.
The cold snap that has blanketed the Bay Area with sub-freezing temperatures this week is forecast to continue for days, and the National Weather Service has issued another regional freeze warning for Sunday night –- the fifth in less than a week.
The freeze warning was issued for all Bay Area counties except San Francisco, and the National Weather Service had already scheduled the warning to be issued again Monday night at 10 p.m. and Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.
As of 8 p.m. Sunday, the coldest spots in the Bay Area were already near freezing as the recent weather continued chilling local residents for another night.
Temperatures across the region were expected to dip to the 30s and 20s overnight Sunday, with the lowest – low 20s -- expected in areas like Santa Rosa, Napa, Livermore, Fairfield, and Morgan Hill, according to KTVU meteorologist Mark Tamayo.
“A few inland valleys could drop to 18 or 19 degrees,” said Tamayo.
Tamayo also said that records for overnight lows would likely be broken in a few spots; most of the records still standing date back to Dec. 1972..
The cold snap has been unusually long in its duration, as most last two to three days, according to Tamayo.
“This will end up lasting nearly a week,” said Tamayo.
The freeze warning is a reminder to for Bay Area residents to keep the plants and animals warm. Also, exposed pipes could burst with the temperatures below freezing for over 3 hours.
At King's Nursery in Santa Rosa – one area that’s seen some of the coldest temperatures -- employees have been fielding a lot of frantic calls from customers in recent days trying to save their plants.
Nursery manager Cindy Stewart said even though she stocked four times their usual number of frost cloths, the store ran out mid-week because customer demand was so high.
Stewart said that most years, local gardeners are able to ease into the frost season. But with Monday’s freeze warning being the fifth in six days, a lot of people's gardens are suffering if they didn't take the proper precautions.
"The main difference that it makes is that those plants that usually would survive a frost but maybe take a hit -- those might go away. Those might die from a frost," said Stewart. "When you have prolonged cold for that many days, it doesn't have a chance to recover."
At Mark's Christmas Trees, another Santa Rosa establishment, owner Mark Lazzini said the chilly temperatures didn't seem to deter folks from coming out to shop. But many were bundled up in big jackets, hats, and scarves.
"It's cold -- that's why I have a hat on," said Josephine Dunn, a Santa Rosa resident. "But we come here every year to get our tree."
"I like it. It's nice -- nicer than the heat and it goes with Christmas," said Jessica Tawney, also a Santa Rosa resident.
According to Rosemary Barnes, a spokesperson for San Jose International airport, a number of flights to and from San Jose were delayed or cancelled due to weather issues.
At least one flight from San Jose to Houston was delayed because the place needed to be de-iced, she said. Barnes added that given Monday morning's chilly forecast, it was likely airlines will be de-icing Monday morning as well.
Tamayo said the storm on Friday night added more moisture to the surface. Combined with the subfreezing temps, the residual moisture will lead to black ice concerns, which means drivers should continue to use caution on the roads, especially over the next few days.
But the cold snap won’t last forever as the frigid air mass was expected to gradually move out of the area this week, and temperatures will begin to warm a few degrees each day by midweek, according to Tamayo.
Additional reporting provided by KTVU reporter Cara Liu.
The Minnesota Wild gained some momentum heading into a stretch in which they will spend little time at home.
Josh Harding made a season-high 37 saves in another strong home outing, and the Wild beat the San Jose Sharks 3-1 on Sunday night despite recording a season-low 13 shots.
Zach Parise scored twice — once into an empty net — and Mikko Koivu added a goal for the Wild, who have won three of four.
"It was a hard game, and that's a tough team to play against," Parise said. "We were able to hang on and win, so that's important for us."
Patrick Marleau scored with 1:41 left for San Jose, which went 1-3 on a four-game trip. The Sharks, who have lost three in a row in regulation for the first time this season, are 0-5-1 in their last six games in Minnesota.
Antti Niemi made 10 saves.
The Wild plays seven of their next eight away from home. To maintain their standing within the tough Western Conference, they will need to play better than their 5-6-3 road record.
"We don't want to go out and make everything look pretty," forward Matt Cooke said. "We're a team that's going to go out and play responsible, take care of our own end, and capitalize on our opportunities.
"That should suit us well heading on the road."
That was evident late against the Sharks when Minnesota focused on strong play in its own end against a team that was averaging an NHL-best 36 shots per game and scoring 3.34 goals. Minnesota held the Sharks to just six third-period shots, after allowing 21 in the second.
"I feel like we got a lot of good practice in our defensive game tonight, and we were sharp," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "They got the one at the end, but I thought we did a really good job in the third period. We were playing tight, we had good layers, and we were tough to come through."
Parise and Koivu scored second-period goals to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead. Parise pushed the Wild's edge back to two goals when he scored at 19:54 of the third period.
"It's always frustrating when you lose," San Jose center Joe Pavelski said. "We did a few of the things we wanted to and it didn't feel like we gave them much. It was competitive, but we didn't find a way."
Harding, who improved to 13-1 at home, is 16-4-3 overall. He lowered his goals-against average to an NHL-best 1.50 and moved into a second-place tie with Niemi and Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury for most wins.
"Whenever you can keep a team like that at bay, you're going to be happy," Harding said. "I always say it, but when we have guys like our captain and the leaders on this team blocking shots like they were, putting their body in front of the puck, it makes everybody want to battle that much harder."
The Wild blocked 18 shots, including three by Koivu and Cooke.
Two days after Sharks coach Todd McLellan questioned his team's energy level following a 5-3 loss in Carolina, San Jose came out more aggressive.
The Sharks got the puck deep in the offensive end and outshot Minnesota 11-5 in the first period. Despite Harding giving up a number of prime rebounds, the Sharks couldn't score.
However, a rebound led to Parise's first goal early in the second period.
With Jason Pominville about to crash into him, Niemi blocked a slap shot from Marco Scandella, but the rebound was picked up by Parise in front. He quickly shifted the puck to his backhand and put a shot into the empty net.
McLellan was adamant that the goal shouldn't have counted.
"I'll be looking for an explanation," he said. "I don't know how the outcome of the game would've gone, who knows what happens if that's disallowed."
Koivu made it 2-0 a little more than four minutes later beating Niemi with a wrist shot on the stick side.
Niemi was pulled for an extra skater with 2:15 to play, and Marleau got the Sharks on the board by squeezing a rebound between Harding and the left post.
NOTES: The teams will meet again Thursday at San Jose. ... Wild fourth-line center Zenon Konopka returned after sitting as a healthy scratch the previous two games. ... San Jose RW Marty Havlat was scratched. No reason was given, but he limped off the ice after blocking a shot Friday in Carolina. ... Minnesota is 14-0-3 when leading after two periods.
Bob Filner has almost vanished from public view since a defiant resignation speech as San Diego mayor amid widespread allegations that he sexually harassed women. He returns to the spotlight at least once more.
The former 10-term congressman will be sentenced Monday for one felony and two misdemeanors for placing a woman in a headlock, kissing another woman and grabbing the buttocks of a third. He pleaded guilty in October in an agreement with prosecutors, who will recommend that he get three months of home confinement and three years of probation.
Filner, 71, has avoided even close supporters since leaving office Aug. 30, less than nine months into a four-year term. He said little when he resurfaced six weeks later to plead guilty in San Diego Superior Court, but his attorney told reporters then that the former mayor "profusely apologizes" for his behavior.
The attorney, Jerry Coughlan, said Filner was spending his days jogging, getting therapy and talking to friends. Television news crews hoping for a glimpse of the former mayor were disappointed when he showed up at jail a day earlier than expected to be booked.
Filner, who is divorced, was convicted of felony false imprisonment for restraining a woman against her will at a fund-raiser on March 6 and applying additional force when she resisted. His attorney said it was a headlock.
The battery counts are for kissing a woman on the lips without permission at a "Meet the Mayor" event on April 6 and grabbing another woman's buttocks at a May 25 rally to clean up Fiesta Island in Mission Bay. None of the victims have been identified.
The charges do not involve Filner's former communications director, Irene McCormack Jackson, who expedited the mayor's downfall by becoming the first to go public with sexual harassment allegations in July. She has filed a lawsuit against Filner and the city, claiming her boss asked her to work without panties, demanded kisses, told her he wanted to see her naked and dragged her in a headlock while whispering in her ear.
Nearly 20 women have publicly identified themselves as targets of Filner's unwanted advances, including kissing, groping and requests for dates. They include a retired Navy rear admiral, a San Diego State University dean and a great-grandmother who volunteers answering senior citizens' questions at City Hall.
Filner was elected San Diego's first Democratic mayor in 20 years, promising to put neglected neighborhoods ahead of entrenched downtown business interests. Two city councilmen seeking to replace him in a special election runoff — Republican Kevin Faulconer and Democrat David Alvarez — have embraced Filner's neighborhoods-first mantra while scarcely mentioning the former mayor by name.
Around 30 small dogs from East Bay shelters are scheduled for a Monday morning flight to Boise, Idaho. The program to relocate dogs to an area where adoption is more likely is being called the “Chihuahua Express” by organizers.
Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter (FAAS) was packed with small dogs Sunday and the shelter’s Animal Care Coordinator, Diana Kimbrough, blames the designer dog trend. She says some people purchase small dogs as accessories, then when they realize the animals require more care than expected the dogs end up on the street or in shelters.
“Shelters in the Bay Area are flooded with small little dogs, like this one, and there’s not a whole lot of interest in adopting,” said Kimbrough.
In an effort to combat the problem, FAAS was collaborating with the Berkeley Animal Shelter to fly 30 small dogs to Boise, Idaho, where the need is greater.
“It’s a pretty progressive idea to send dogs to where there is a demand so you’re not euthanizing animals that could make a great companion for somebody,” said Kimbrough.
FAAS has housed 398 dogs since January and it’s a relatively small shelter. The extra kennel space created by the dog transfer will allow them to take in other animals and spend more time with ones already at the shelter.
The Chihuahua Express is costing FAAS around $600, but local veterinarians are covering the bill. Pilots with the organization Wings of Rescue will take off from the Livermore Municipal Airport at nine Monday morning with the dogs on board.
If all goes well with the first trip, FAAS hopes to make the small dog transfer a regular occurrence.