SoCal nonprofit brings joy to local family while addressing housing crisis

David González Image
Wednesday, June 1, 2022
SoCal nonprofit provides affordable housing for families in need
The founder of Operation Gift A Smile said it's a way of giving back to the community by offering necessary resources to families at risk.

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. (KABC) -- Walking into a place to call home is something that many of us may take for granted. However, for Blanca Zarate and Eduardo Esquivel, it is a feeling they never want to forget.

With the help of a local nonprofit organization, Operation Gift A Smile, the couple was given the opportunity to live in a new, furnished home with enough space for their four children last March.

"We're in a much better situation. We're not separated. We're all together," said Zarate.

In 2020, the couple lost their jobs and then their home. They had to spend nights out in the streets, hotels or inside their car after sending the kids to their parents' houses.

Dedicated to helping at-risk youth, Operation Gift A Smile was founded by Tony Jakstis with a mission of giving back.

"I didn't have it easy growing up at all but I find myself in a position that I'm able to give back and be able to help out in any way, shape or form," Jakstis said. "I truly believe the secret to living is giving."

Jakstis has helped two families secure roofs over their heads through the organization's Second Chance Program, which helps with first and last month rent payments.

Project Homekey in El Monte gifts resident a makeover: 'It's a helping hand I haven't had in years'

With the help of Project Homekey in El Monte, which aims to provide temporary housing for its homeless population, one deserving resident now has her own apartment and a brand new look.

"Why they're there, why the family is there, it doesn't matter," he said. "We want to be able to find a family that we can pull them out of that situation and get them permanent housing, sustainable living."

Jakstis also said their goal is to help as many as 30 families every year.

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