By KCAL/KCBS Staff | March 15, 2021 at 2:17 AM EDT – Updated March 15 at 2:17 AM
FONTANA, Calif. (KCAL/KCBS) – A substitute teacher in California was struggling financially before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, cutting his hours. But a fundraiser set up by a former student raised $27,000 just in time for his birthday.
When Jose Villarruel opens the door to his 1997 Ford Thunderbird LX, he has to be very careful not to push it. He uses a device to test the vehicle’s battery because he relies on the car’s power to keep his laptop charged.
A substitute teacher and tutor, Villarruel has been living in his car for about eight years. What’s more, his teaching hours were entirely cut in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I couldn’t possibly support my family and extended family in Mexico and rent an apartment here at the same time with the type of income that I can have,” he said.
Former student Steven Nava says he saw Villarruel, affectionately known as Mr. V, every day as he went to work, and he decided to help out. He created a fundraising account in hopes of making $5,000, but he ended up with nearly six times that amount.
Nava presented Villarruel with a check for $27,000 Thursday on his 77th birthday. The event included a birthday serenade from a number of the substitute’s former students.
“I still haven’t been able to digest the entire experience,” Villarruel said. “It’s extraordinary, totally unexpected.”
Nava says it was an honor for him to help the man who helped mold so many students.
“We don’t appreciate these teachers enough, and that’s something that we should be doing,” he said.
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