Margarita Zepeda loved her local H-E-B in Pleasanton. So much so, that not even the COVID-19 pandemic could stop her from going into the grocery store for hours just so she could interact with people.
“We couldn’t convince her to do curbside at all. She would always say, ‘I don’t want anyone touching my meat or my vegetables.’ She wasn’t afraid of COVID, she just loved getting out of her house and interacting with people,” Cyndy Zuniga said of her late mother.
Zepeda passed away on Jan. 25 from COVID-19 shortly after the New Year.
“It happened so quick. The last time I saw her was around Jan. 4,” said Zuniga. Her sister Diane and brother Orlando were the last ones to see their mother alive since they lived with her. “They tested her since she was experiencing symptoms, so we couldn’t see her until we got the results. Then they took her to the hospital and in a matter of days, she was gone.”
However, Zuniga said she doesn’t want people to remember her mother as a sick, elderly person, but rather a healthy, lively person who was kind, loving and outgoing.
“She wasn’t sick or anything.
Like we said, she wasn’t afraid of COVID, the ultimate thing that would take her. She wore her mask. She followed protocols. She just caught the virus. But we don’t want her to be remembered for her death,” said Amanda Stricker, Zepeda’s granddaughter. “She was such a lively person who would talk to anyone and that’s how we will remember her.”
Zepeda’s funeral services were held in February, where a handful of family members attended. However, in the back of the room sat an unknown young person quietly paying their respects to “Miss Maggie.”
“I thought he was a distant relative’s kid or grandkid I hadn’t met yet because those of us who were there knew each other. Amanda checked the guest book, and my sister recognized his name. We immediately knew who he was,” said Zuniga.
“Mi Niño” and Cash for Kindness award
Jessie Garcia Jr. of Leming is a 19-year-old cashier at H-E-B. He first met Zepeda, known as “Miss Maggie,” in April 2018.
“She had a basket full of groceries and I offered to help her outside, which she refused, but I went anyways,” said Garcia. “Before I knew it, we got to talking, 30-45 minutes had passed, and I had to get back to work. Ever since that day, she would always come into H-E-B and look for me.”
Stricker explained that her grandma would often talk about Jessie whom she called “Mi Niño,” or “my boy.” It gave the family peace of mind knowing that she was being looked after. They are forever grateful to Jessie for showing so much kindness to their beloved one.
“I mean, you don’t see that too often. What kind of teenager would take a day off of work, not get paid or go spend the day with his own family or friends? He specifically took the day off to come to her funeral and that really meant a lot to us. He was raised right,” said Zuniga.
Garcia, who lives with and was raised by his grandparents, described his friendship with Miss Maggie as one of a grandma and grandson. “She reminded me of my own grandparents who are so loving and so kind. Her little visits at H-E-B meant a lot to me, so when I heard that she had passed, I couldn’t believe it. I had to go pay my respects to Miss Maggie,” he said.
Stricker and her mom agreed that Garcia’s kindness deserved to be recognized, so they nominated him for Ryan Wolf’s Fox 29 Cash for Kindness contest.
“This is the kind of story that needs to be told. I knew it was something worth recognizing: a teenager showing kindness to an elderly woman goes a long way in today’s world. That kind of relationship is unheard of and to know that there are young people like Jessie out there, it’s amazing,” said Wolf.
Stricker set up a day and time to meet Jessie at his house to “give him some of Miss Maggie’s belongings.” To Jessie’s surprise, Ryan Wolf and his camera crew popped out of nowhere announcing he won the Cash for Kindness contest.
“I was scared, honestly, and shocked. Who would have thought my kindness could be rewarded like this,” said Garcia, who received $500 cash. Garcia plays the accordion in his grandfather’s band. They play for Our Laday of Grace Church in Leming every Sunday. When asked what he was going to do with the money, Garcia said he was saving it to purchase a new accordion.
“I’ve always loved music ever since I was about 9-years-old,” he said. Garcia graduated in the midst of the pandemic as part of the Pleasanton High School Class of 2020. His plans are to continue working with H-E-B until he turns 21 when he can obtain his CDL and become an H-E-B truck driver.
“My mom would have wanted him to be recognized for his kindness,” said Zuniga. “I cannot tell you how blessed we are to know him and have someone like him as part of our family now. We are forever grateful for Jessie.”
To nominate someone for Ryan Wolf’s Cash for Kindness, simply go to foxsanantonio.com/news/ cash-for-kindness.
“We are looking for heartfelt stories just like Jessie and Miss Maggie’s. Kindness like that in a young person is rarely heard of in today’s world. People deserve to hear those stories and know that the news isn’t just about the bad, but about the good,” said Wolf.