When we solicited pictures of the GOOD community's mothers for a Mother's Day-themed photo contest, we expected to receive some great and nostalgic images. We didn't expect to also get a touching story of loss and hope.
Greg Calso III won the contest for this shot of his mom, Juanita Francisco. But when we contacted him to ask him where we should send his prize, a free bouquet for his mother, Calso said he didn't need it, as Juanita had died a year and a half ago. "If the fact that my mother is deceased disqualifies her as a winner in the contest, it's ok with me," he wrote. "I honestly did not expect to win. All I wanted was to keep my mom's memory alive and share that picture that I love so much."
Two days before Thanksgiving 2010, Juanita was working at La Especial, the small bakery and food shop she had owned in Bakersfield, California, since 1996. That's when someone came into the shop and murdered her in a back storage room before ransacking the place. Her killer has never been found.
Juanita's loss devastated her family and community, who remember her as being kind, welcoming, and giving. Greg says Juanita used to regularly give away bread to hungry and homeless citizens. One customer interviewed in the wake of the killing said La Especial was "like home" and that Juanita was "like a mom."
To Greg and his younger siblings, Eddie and Gina, Juanita wasn't like a mom, she was mom, and her generous spirit lives on with them. To honor Juanita's memory, Greg has founded a coat drive to gather warm clothes for Bakersfield's poor. He got the idea from Juanita. "The last few years she was there, she had a table in the bakery of slightly-worn clothing she collected from family members to sell and help make ends meet," he says. "It wasn't until after her death that patrons of the bakery came forward and told us that our mom had given them clothing for free. That is what motivated me to have the coat drive."
Greg says his coat drive will be held every year, and he plans to add a toy drive as well. He'll hold both on November 23, the anniversary of Juanita's death. He says giving back helps him and his siblings cope: "We would rather honor her and do something positive than just sit around and be miserable."