Thirteen-year-old Pricilla Rodriguez knew something was up Wednesday afternoon, because her parents were taking her and her 2-year-old sister, Danna, shopping.
“I was surprised but thought I was going to get a bike, because this is a bike shop,” she said as she stood with her new black and orange Trek mountain bike at St. Helena Cyclery. The bike was donated by a St. Helena couple who wish to remain anonymous. Shop owner Jake Scheideman said they wished to buy a bicycle for a youngster who had lost one in the September Valley Fire. In fact, the Rodriguez family lost everything they owned as the raging Valley Fire reduced their apartment on Barnes Street to ashes.
Inside the store, Scheideman made sure the bike fit Pricilla and adjusted the seat after checking how her feet fit on the pedals. They talked a little bit about the bike’s fit and then headed out the back door so she could try her new bike in the alley behind the store and next to the Wine Train tracks.
While she straddled the bike, Scheideman told her how to shift the bike’s gears with her thumb and her fingers, and told her not to press down too hard on the handbrakes. “Right now, everything is adjusted perfectly,” he said. “But in a week or two, you need to come back for readjustment, because things will have stretched out. We’ll do that for free.”
With her father, Gregorio, and mother, Patrica, and sister, Danna, watching, Pricilla rode down the alley and shifted the gears. The seventh-grade Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School student rode back and stopped by her parents, just in time to see her sister get a new American Flyer tricycle. At first, Danna was scared of it, but with a little encouragement, she, too, rode it down the alley.
The Rodriguez family were victims of the Valley Fire, which started on Sept. 12 in Cobb and quickly swept through Middletown. They had lived in their apartment on Barnes Street for just a week when the fire struck.
On that Saturday afternoon, Pricilla said, her mother was at work and both her dad and sister were asleep as the fire approached. She woke them both up and “ran upstairs, got clothes for everybody and brought them down” in a suitcase. She also got “the backpack with important papers in it, gathered blankets and pillows and put them into the car.”
Almost immediately, sheriff’s deputies knocked on their door and told them they needed to evacuate immediately. They first came to St. Helena, to their aunt’s house, but then ended up at the Napa County Fairgrounds. While there, the family began looking for an apartment. They now live at Stonebridge Apartments.
“You’re going to need a helmet and a bike lock, so this new bike doesn’t get stolen,” Scheideman told Pricilla, who lost her old bike in the fire and called her new one “pretty nice.”
One last thing, “I want to thank the family who gave me the bike,” she said.
Assisting in the effort to obtain a bicycle for Pricilla was Marty Heise, New Harvest Community Church trustee and a leader in the church’s Team Lake County Donations Committee.
She writes, “When I was volunteering with the Red Cross at the beginning of the Valley Fire, one of the official caseworkers found out I was collecting bikes and showed me an article (about Pricilla Rodriguez written by Eric Maldonado, a volunteer contributor and American Red Cross worker). Her only request was that I find a special bike for this young girl who had kept her head and helped her family … she even thought about work clothes for her parents. The caseworker was so impressed that she wanted to make sure this girl received something special.
“God works in mysterious ways, because here we are and she is getting a special bike, by special donors through a web of emails. We have had bikes for Pricilla but the timing always seemed wrong and this time everything just fell into place like something that was meant to be.”