A California 77-year-old who lost his job as a substitute teacher due to the coronavirus pandemic and has been living out of his car for almost a year, received a massive check at a surprise birthday party Thursday after an encounter with a former student.
Jose Villarruel, known to students as “Mr. V.,” has been living in his 1990s-era Ford Thunderbird with peeling blue paint since May, when he resigned from his position after the pandemic made substitute teachers somewhat obsolete.
“I decided the school situation has changed completely and I believed that a job of a substitute was over,” he told Fox 11 Los Angeles. “I managed to do all of the paperwork, all of the arrangements to get my pension. I got my check, but that check didn’t last long because I had debts already.”
But former student Steven Nava ran into him last week and decided he wanted to find a way to help.
Nava on Twitter wrote that he’d seen a familiar-looking man living out of his car in a parking lot near his house.
“His car is really old, and that’s where he’s been staying for the past year,” Nava continued. “I felt like the need to help.”
Nava gave Villarruel $300, set him up with a hotel room and took him out to breakfast. While they were talking, he said he learned the former sub’s birthday would be this Thursday.
“Anyways he has no clue what’s in store,” Nava predicted, as he used his social media accounts to promote a GoFundMe fundraiser.
The campaign drew in more than $27,000 within days. And Nava set up a socially distanced, outdoor birthday party with fellow former students and other community members Thursday.
Then they presented Villarruel with the check.
He was floored.
“My initial thought was, ‘Am I dreaming?’ I still can’t get over this experience,” he said.
The 77-year-old former educator said he planned to pay it forward.
“The greatest feeling that I have right now is like an obligation that I need to do a lot for the world, and the greatest feeling is I can do it, and I’m going to find a way to do it,” he told Fox 11.