By MICHAEL RODRIGUEZ
It appeared as though nothing, not even the law, could discourage the efforts of Noe Zavala, his family, friends and colleagues in raising money Thursday for the family of a young girl who died two days prior.
Since the death of 7-year-old Ruby Ramirez on Tuesday, the community has shown its support through condolences, kind words and even kinder gestures to help the family of the Sullivan Elementary School first grader, who currently resides in a modest home on the 500 block of Chapman Street, to pay for whatever funeral expenses or other costs that may have been incurred following her passing. A bank account has been opened at Capitol One for such a cause, in which those who wish to contribute to Ruby’s family may do so by donating under account number 3832692688, in care of Elena Ramirez.
Then there’s Noe Zavala.
A 2002 graduate from San Benito High School, Zavala is well-known in the community for coaching youth and little league sporting activities for various organizations, including Ed Downs Elementary, the Texas Youth Football Association and Los Indios NFL Flag Football League. But when recently raising money for the Ramirez family, Zavala was acting as a father with two children, one of whom – Aliana Zavala – is Ruby’s age while his son, Noe Zavala Jr., is a year older.
“That’s the main thing that gets you to think about stuff like that,” Zavala said about how Ruby’s death affected him as a father.
Along with fellow coaches and their children, Zavala said he’s helped organize about 20 people to volunteer in the effort to collect money for the Ramirez’ – an effort that’s consisted of placing donation jars at various locations throughout the city as well as asking for monetary contributions near the intersection of Sam Houston Boulevard and Expressway 83 Frontage Road. The latter has been conducted in only two-and-a-half hours’ time between Jan. 30-31, specifically from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesday and from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Thursday.
Still, citizens of San Benito and the surrounding area contributed a total of $1,232.53 as a result of Zavala’s efforts at said intersection, where his children and sister Krissy, together with other volunteers, held signs requesting donations in Ruby’s name.
There was just one problem: Zavala didn’t have a permit as required by law and requested by two officers from the San Benito Police Department, who informed the good Samaritans on Thursday that they cannot solicit from the street.
Such action by the SBPD officers, who referenced City of San Benito Code Enforcement personnel when speaking to Zavala about the situation, drew the ire of San Benito News Facebook users who criticized their handling of the matter.
“Wow, amazing,” Norma Acosta wrote on a Facebook status posted by the News reporting the officers’ actions. “Why in heavens would they take a good deed and turn it around as something negative?”
Code Enforcement Director John Rodriguez, however, said officers were following the law.
“Permits don’t get issued for solicitation of funds through pedestrians on the roadway,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t (grant such permits). We would be putting them in danger and we’re not going to take that liability.”
Rodriguez also cited Texas Transportation Code, Solicitation by Pedestrians, Sec. 552.007, which states the following: “A person may not stand in a roadway to solicit a ride, contribution, employment, or business from an occupant of a vehicle, except that a person may stand in a roadway to solicit a charitable contribution if authorized to do so by the local authority having jurisdiction over the roadway.”
Under subsection (c) in the same section, a “charitable contribution” is described as “a contribution to an organization defined as charitable by the standards of the United States Internal Revenue Service.”
“That group is not a charitable contribution,” Rodriguez said about Zavala’s efforts. “Their intentions are good and you can see what they’re trying to do, but I think it’s tackling the problem in the wrong way.”
The volunteers collecting contributions for the Ramirez family complained that such codes often go unenforced against newspaper street vendors or other fundraising efforts that routinely use the same or similar stretches of roadway. These sentiments were shared by social media users such as Melly Niño Mercado, who on Facebook commented, “What about all the other [people] selling tamales, flowers and candy apples in the restaurants and bars and even Walmart parking lots without permission?”
Rodriguez acknowledged these instances but attributed them to isolated incidents that have either gone unreported or not observed by officials authorized to recognize code violations.
“It depends on the violation and whether it was reported to the proper agency,” Rodriguez said. “Unless someone speaks up and makes a legitimate complaint, or unless we see it, we can’t do anything. Not everyone gets pulled over for speeding, just those who are caught.”
The issue was resolved when Zavala was granted verbal permission from the manager at Jack in the Box, located in the vicinity where the fundraising efforts were held, to use a small portion of the eatery’s property fronting the business and adjacent to the parking lot entrance.
“If the manager of Jack in the Box wants to take on the liability and have someone get run over or hit, that’s up to them,” Rodriguez said. “That’s their business, and as long as it doesn’t violate their business permit in any way, then we’re okay with it.”
The efforts did not go unappreciated as Estuard Ramirez, Ruby’s 18-year-old brother, said his family was grateful for Zavala’s assistance.
“It is going to help out our mom, because she’s not okay,” said Estuard, who’s planning on studying automotive technology at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen. “She’s going to need some help because she just lost her queen, because [Ruby] was everything to her and to us, too. The money isn’t going to bring my little sister back, but all the money we collect is going to be put it in the bank to use for what my mom needs. She’s not going to work for a month or two months…we don’t know.”
It’s a situation Zavala is not only sympathetic to but motivated by as well. When asked what prompted the fundraising efforts for the Ramirez family, Zavala said, “There are several reasons, but the main thing was for her (Ruby’s) mother. She’s already going through enough. God put us out here for those that are hurting right now, and the least of her worries should be the expenses. That’s where we, San Benito as a community, should come together and try to help her out.”
Those who donated at the intersection gave everything from handfuls of change to as much as $30 – all of which, Zavala said, was appreciated. “Sixteen people gave us $20 dollar bills,” Zavala commented before another Samaritan handed him a $5 dollar bill. “A lot of people, like this young lady who just came up to us, didn’t even believe in pulling out their change; they’re pulling out their wallets.”
According to SBPD Assistant Operations Chief Michael Galvan, and as reported by the News Wednesday via sbnewspaper.com, preliminary autopsy results have shown that Ruby may have died by choking on a balloon.
Ruby reportedly collapsed on campus Monday, Jan. 28, in the vicinity of the Sullivan Elementary playground and during the time her mother had arrived to pick her up from school. Pastor Jay De La Cruz of Iglesia Cristiana Fuego De Dios (Fire of God Christian Church), speaking on behalf of Ruby’s family, previously reported that the girl began to cough up blood following her collapse and, at one point, had to be revived before reaching a local hospital.
San Benito CISD officials have also reported that a nurse was on the scene to perform emergency aid while waiting for EMS technician to arrive. Ruby was then transferred to a local hospital, where she died at approximately 11:59 a.m. the following day.
Citing the findings of a preliminary autopsy, a procedure performed during a three-hour period on Wednesday morning, Galvan said, “All signs point to lack of oxygen or oxygen depletion. Right now it looks like asphyxia due to internal occlusion of airway by a balloon.”
It was a common type of balloon one would find at a party, Galvan further remarked. The assistant chief also indicated that Ruby’s case is pending additional information before investigators can formally rule her death accidental.
In the meantime, Zavala and his group planned to continue their fundraising efforts for Ruby’s family at the same location and at about the same time, 4:30 p.m., on Friday. “We have to (help),” Zavala said. “This lady needs us.”
Visit sbnewspaper.com, follow or like the News on Twitter or Facebook to learn how much was collected Friday evening and the total amount donated during Zavala’s three-day effort.
Read this story in the Feb. 3 edition of the San Benito News, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.