20 Of California's Most Memorable Heroes Of 2020

Michael Wittner

CALIFORNIA — 2020 was one of the most difficult years in recent memory, but as William Shakespeare once wrote, “Adversity brings out the best in man.”

Californians have shown that adversity is bringing out the best in men, women, children, teachers, nurses, firefighters, police officers, or friendly neighbors willing to lend a helping hand. In April, Patch asked readers to nominate the heroes in their community: the unsung citizens going above and beyond to help their communities make it through this crisis.

The result was extraordinary: hundreds of responses poured in, with readers from all over the state describing how their friends, family, and neighbors showed up for them: through sewing masks, delivering food, tutoring for free, shopping for the elderly, or even accepting eggs or artwork as payment during tough times.

As this year - which sometimes felt more like a century - finally comes to an end, we had the near-impossible task of trying to choose some of the 20 top heroes of 2020. These heroes are not more or less heroic than any of the other hundreds of inspiring citizens you told us about, or any of the millions of people in California and across the country quietly but resolutely working hard to make a positive difference in their beleaguered communities.

We tried to find the 20 that showed us just how many ways a diverse group of Californians have risen to the occasion, from rescuing animals in a fire to lowering rents to delivering home-cooked meals to - a topic dear to our hearts at Patch - working hard to make sure that the news in a small town gets covered. These heroes remind us that no matter where you live, what you do, or the difficult circumstances in which you find yourself, human goodness and creativity is truly boundless.

If you ever need your faith in humanity restored, read on.

1. 10-Year-Old With A 'Heart Of Gold': Banning Local Hero | Banning, CA Patch - Bianca Canales of Banning, California is just 10 years old, but she saved up money to deliver snack bags to firefighters at multiple agencies working on the Morongo Reservation.

2. Insurance Agent Rescues Animals During Apple Fire: Local Hero | Banning, CA Patch - During the Apple Fire in July, which burned more than 33,000 acres and destroyed four homes, Ernest and June Siva had to evacuate their home and leave behind their dog and horse. Their neighbor, Valerie Menefee, stayed behind to take the horse to a ranch and the dog to her home, saving both their lives.

3. Menifee Restaurant Steps Up For Seniors: Local Hero | Murrieta, CA Patch - The Breakfast Club of Menifee prepares three meals a day free of charge to residents over 55 sheltered in place due to the pandemic.

4. 'Feeds The Homeless Twice A Day': Concord Hero | Concord, CA Patch - Two times a day, seven days a week, Jack Fliehman feeds the homeless in Concord, California.

5. 'Will Help Out Any Neighbor In Need': Poway Hero | Poway, CA Patch - When Poway’s restaurants were shut down due to a weeklong water contamination, Phil Factor raised $5000 to get restaurants back their lost wages.

6. 'She Puts Her Life On The Line': Beaumont Hero | Banning, CA Patch - Priscilla Uribe is one of so many working 12-hour shifts as a nurse while raising three children.

7. Elderly Man Makes Free Masks While Caring For Mom: Fremont Hero | Fremont, CA Patch - Henry Kao is in his 80s and takes care of his 104-year-old mother yet still spends most of his time sewing free masks for essential workers.

8. 'Determined Leader With A Kind Heart': Novato Hero | Novato, CA Patch - Krystalynn Schlegel of Novato raised $20,000 to buy food from struggling local restaurants that was used to feed police, schools, hospitals, and city workers.

9. Landlords Lower Rent Because Of Coronavirus: San Leandro Heroes | San Leandro, CA Patch - Patrick and Carolyn Vandais of San Leandro were some of the many landlords across the country who worked with their struggling tenants to make sure they could afford to pay their rent.

10. 'She Stepped Up To Cover Shifts': Murrieta Hero | Murrieta, CA Patch - Angel Rosilez of Winchester is a nurse at a county jail who covered her coworkers’ shifts and worked hundreds of hours in the early phases of the pandemic to make sure jail inmates were given proper medical treatment.

11. San Leandro Hero Sews Masks Past Midnight Every Night | San Leandro, CA Patch - Judy Rose of San Leandro is a seamstress who sews wedding dresses all day, then stays up late each night sewing masks for her community, including the Navajo Nation.

12. 'Decades Serving Young and Old': Ramona Hero | Ramona, CA Patch - During a year when mental health issues ballooned, Jane Tanaka of Ramona put in 14-16 hour days, sometimes accepting eggs or artwork as payment.

13. North Hollywood Hero: Meet Karen Hamza, Pet Care Extraordinaire | North Hollywood, CA Patch - Karen Hamza founded a nonprofit to help the pets of homeless guardians receive supplies, veterinary care, and more.

14. Teen Volunteer Makes Youth Feel Confident: Watsonville Hero | Watsonville, CA Patch - Baylee Maunu of Watsonville is a 13-year-old and former foster child who has devoted her time to collecting clothing and toys for children.

15. 'Courage Comes In Many Forms': Napa Valley Hero | Napa Valley, CA Patch - Sharon Stensaas of Yountville edits the Yountville Sun newspaper. In a time when local news is struggling, Stensaas works hard to make sure this small town stays informed about what’s going on.

16. 'He Has Ordered Thousands Of Masks And Sanitizer': Murrieta Hero | Murrieta, CA Patch - Councilmember Richard Henry Gibbs of Murrieta has secured thousands of masks, bottles of hand sanitizer, and distilled water for the vulnerable members of his community, and convinced stores to implement senior hours.

17. 'Inspires Us To Suit Up And Show Up': Oceanside Hero | Oceanside, CA Patch - Jeff Cornell of Oceanside makes sure that thousands of pounds of food are delivered to homeless shelters.

18. 'Unlike Anything I Have Ever Seen': Newark Hero | Newark, CA Patch - James Skinner of Newark provides 600 free meals for local students and residents during the pandemic, keeping his staff employed and struggling residents fed.

19. 'He Is Very Kind': Palm Desert Hero | Palm Desert, CA Patch - Michael Holmes of Palm Springs turned his restaurant into an assembly line for cutting and tracing materials to make 3,700 gowns for hospital workers.

20. 'Their Generosity And Commitment': Banning Hero | Banning, CA Patch - The Cherry Berry Quilts store in Calimesa has made and donated over 12,000 masks.

This article originally appeared on the Across California Patch