Jenedith Fontanez reached a breaking point and burst into tears.
Trudging down the street about two weeks back, her arms loaded down with a baby and several bags, Fontanez was homeless, carless and had nowhere to turn.
“I was just so tired. I didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night,” she said Thursday. “I kept saying sorry to my son, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ Never ever in my life did I expect to be in this situation. I fell so far.”
Then a passing stranger pulled her car off the road and offered Fontanez a ride.
And ended up giving her so much more.
The stranger, Cherish Doutrich, fetched her husband Andrew and, together, they bought food for Fontanez and her baby at the closest Turkey Hill. They drove her where she needed to go.
Along the way, they slipped $500 into her diaper bag — money that Andrew Doutrich had quietly withdrawn from the Turkey Hill ATM.
It changed her life.
“I had it all and I lost it,” Fontanez, 23, said Thursday. “Now I’m working, I’m working hard. I hope I can get to the point where I can do this for someone else.”
Fontanez tried to return the wad of 20-dollar bills. She chased after the couple, she said, and tried to hand it to the woman.
Doutrich wouldn’t take it.
“She was like, ‘That didn’t come from me. That came from God. We really want you to get your own place’,” Fontanez said.
“So I took that $500 and put it away. And I’m standing in my own place today,” she said. “That a complete stranger would do this for someone — I’ll never forget it. This is huge.”
Doutrich said it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
She was driving home when she saw Fontanez walking along New Danville Pike.
She kept driving, but she couldn’t shake the image of the crying woman. She turned her car around.
“I felt uneasy,” said Doutrich, who works with autistic children in the city school district. “I never do that sort of thing — you never know these days — but I went back.
“She looked helpless. I didn’t feel right, it would be selfish of me not to at least stop and ask her if she was OK.”
She stopped and asked the woman if she was all right.
“She said, ‘I’m OK.’ I said, ‘You don’t look OK. ‘ I told her to get in my car.”
Her story quickly unfolded.
“It just broke my heart,” Doutrich said. “She works so hard and just couldn’t catch a break.”
Fontanez, Doutrich learned, is a single mother of three. She has no close family and no one else to turn to.
She was evicted from her apartment because she couldn’t pay the rent. She just started a job as a nurse’s aide at a local hospital, but her first paycheck was already gone, spent on food and overdue bills.
To make matters worse, she’d left her purse and WIC food vouchers in a rental car and, because she still owed money on the rental, couldn’t get them back.
“I honestly just vented,” Fontanez said. “Everything I was holding in for so long just came out.
“She asked me if I had eaten anything that day. I told her, no, I have not.”
That’s when Doutrich drove Fontanez to her house and got her husband, who’s a utility technician.
“They asked me what they could do,” Fontanez said. “I said honestly, I just need to get my WIC check so I can get formula for my baby. I was on my last bottle.”
Fontanez, who usually goes by Jenni, said she’d been homeless for several months, staying sometimes in shelters, sometimes in rooms rented from friends and distant relatives.
Nothing presented a long-term solution, however.
She got pregnant for the first time when she was 16, she said. Her parents kicked her out, so she got an apartment and continued school.
She graduated from McCaskey on time, she said proudly, and earned a medical certificate through the Career & Technology Center. She got a job at a bank.
“I had my own house for seven years, I had a car, I had a job,” she said.
Then she had her son, Isaac, by C-section, and suffered complications. Because she had recently changed jobs, she said, she didn’t qualify for leave and was fired.
“I lost my job. I lost my car. Then I lost my home,” she said. “I lost everything.”
Things rapidly went downhill, she said.
Fontanez has been caring for her 7-month-old infant, Isaac David. Her daughters — Inelis, 7, and Arielis, 5 — have been living with their father for the past few months.
She couldn’t put together enough money to put a deposit and the first month’s rent on an apartment, she said.
Until she got that $500.
She can’t wait to introduce her daughters to their new home in Conestoga Valley.
“It’s not a big place,” she said. “But it’s perfect for me and the babies.”
Although she has very little property — almost everything she owned was in a storage unit, she explained, which was auctioned off when she couldn’t keep up the payments — Fontanez is getting a bed for her girls this week and expects them to come live with her by the weekend.
She was laughing and crying as she told her story.
“I always had a roof over their heads. I had a job and I took care of them. I never needed anyone,” she said.
“I’m just happy to have us all under one roof. I have no furniture yet. I have trash bags full of clothes. I have a broom and a mop, my son’s playpen and a bed. That’s it. But you know what? I’ll be under one roof with my babies.”
Now, Fontanez wants to have the Doutrichs, who married in May, over for dinner so they can meet her children and see the home they helped her find.
And she wants to thank Cherish Doutrich again for deciding to stop and lend a hand.
“I have so much to thank her for,” she said. “She’s my angel, my miracle.”