Child’s donation of birthday ‘gifts’ to family in need galvanizes community

Pictured, from left: Sadie, Lorie and Leo Sandoval. Lorie has been diagnosed with ALS. After learning of the family’s financial hardships, the Malibu community pitched in for a fundraiser, taking place Oct. 15, to help the Sandovals.

Malibu moms and local celebs Lesley-Anne Down, Rick Springfield get involved to relieve one family’s financial hardships, spurred by a 12-year-old’s request not to have gifts for her birthday, but donations to the family.

By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times

A trio of moms, a couple of local celebrities, and several businesses are banding together to help a Malibu family in crisis-and all were galvanized by the actions of a pair of 12-year-old twins.

Malibu residents Traci Donat, Tammi Jacob and Apryl Prose are organizing an Oct. 15 fundraiser party and silent auction for the Sandovals at Malibu West Beach Club, and “The Bold and the Beautiful” actress Lesley-Anne Down and “Jesse’s Girl” singer Rick Springfield have pitched in.

The recession has devastated many lives nationwide, but the Sandoval family has been hit unusually hard.

As Donat’s husband, Lucas, explained, “Earlier this year, Lorie Sandoval was diagnosed with late-stage ALS [amyotrophic lateral sclerosis]/Lou Gehrig’s disease. She felt terribly ill prior, but the diagnosis eluded doctors until she was well into the degenerative part of the disease. She no longer has use of her arms and legs, and her speech is slurred.”

As Lorie battles the disease, husband Leo, who owns the door-and-window company, Millwork Direct, struggles to care for her while raising their daughter Sadie, 12, and deal with the health care maze.

But they are not alone in this fight.

“It sort of grew out of a little thing,” Leo Sandoval said regarding the grass-roots benefit. “Lorie was diagnosed on January 15. From that point on, everyone knew. It was a hard thing to deal with. People were trying to reach out to help us. You want the help but you don’t want to ask for help. It’s kind of awkward. I was raised in a home where my dad would say, ‘You don’t put your garbage in someone else’s can.’

“But we’re not rich people,” he continued. “We live in Malibu, but we just pay the bills.”

Now, those bills have skyrocketed. The Sandovals, Leo said, spend $7,000 to $10,000 a month “that we don’t really have. We’re behind on house payments, and we’re not getting a lot of help from health insurance companies.”

The family has struggled to navigate through an uncharted journey of the medical world as Lorie’s disease progresses. That includes the frustrating realities of dealing with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease for which there is no cure. Muscular dystrophy nonprofits supposedly are devoted to assisting afflicted people and providing wheelchairs, walkers and other crucial accessories; reality has proved otherwise. Sandoval spent $15,000 remodeling the family home to make it wheelchair accessible.

“Nobody helps us with all this stuff, no social workers, nobody from [the family’s HMO],” Sandoval said.

As customers of Millwork Direct, which Leo has run in Malibu since 1988, the Donats met the Sandovals.

“They are salt of the earth, kind, hard-working people,” Lucas Donat said. “When we heard [they] might lose their home … we struggled to figure out how we could help them.”

That’s when Remi, 12, Jacob’s daughter and a friend of Sadie’s, came up with the perfect solution.

“My daughter knows Sadie through dance classes,” Tammi Jacob said. “My kids, Remi and her twin brother Kyle, were going to have a 13th birthday party, and Leo had mentioned Sadie was not able to have a party this year. Remi heard me talking about their situation and she said, ‘I don’t need presents! Let’s have people give presents to Lorie!’ We included Sadie in the party and now we’re turning it into a fundraiser for the family.”

“That act of simple kindness from a 12-year-old girl was a enough to galvanize the community,” Lucas Donat said.

Within days, fellow Malibu citizen Lesley-Anne Down got involved.

“Such humanity from such a young girl ignited my own humanity,” said Down, the English actress best known for her work in “The Pink Panther Strikes Again” and “Upstairs, Downstairs.”

“Marylyn Scott gave me the [Beach Club] at cost and has gone beyond in helping,” Down added. “My dear friend Richard [Chesterfield] of Monrose Catering Company did not hesitate [to provide] catering, and Rick Springfield immediately offered a signed guitar to auction.”

The Semler Malibu Family Wines has also donated their product.

“She has been kind and generous,” Jacob said of Down. “Apryl Prose [a former wedding planner] has taken on the auction and decorating [the clubhouse] with her mad skills!”

“I’ve been really overwhelmed by the generosity, support and kindness of neighbors and strangers toward this family,” Prose said. “It makes me very proud to be a Malibu resident.”

“Every day,” Lucas Donat said, “we see Sadie holding her head up high, getting great grades in school, dancing like a princess in dance class. But inside, we know her heart is breaking. No 12-year-old should have to witness her mother being taken a day at a time by such a merciless disease.”

Sadie is doing well, given the circumstances.

“She got straight As at Malibu Middle School last year,” Leo Sandoval said. “She’s now in the seventh grade and she’s carrying on. She does her homework and we don’t have to ask her.”

A children’s therapist helps Sadie “process through the emotions of it,” he continued. “It can be difficult. I have to take care of Lorie so I don’t have as much time to take care of Sadie.”

Those organizing the fundraiser are determined to help the Sandovals.

“This has become a group of moms on a mission to make sure that Lorie [gets] the help that she needs [and knows] her family is going to be okay,” Jacob said.

“We might not be able to beat ALS,” Donat said, “but we won’t let the Sandovals lose their home.”

The Sandoval Family Benefit Party, a night of dinner, drinks and dancing, will take place on Friday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m. -10 p.m., Malibu West Beach Club, 30756 W. Pacific Coast Highway. RSVP and more information can be obtained by contacting Tammi Jacob or Traci Donat at Those not attending can mail donations, checks payable to Lorie Sandoval Family Fund, P.O. Box 2122, Malibu, CA 90265.