BRENTWOOD -- What a difference one story can make.
A feature last month on the unenviable situation of a Brentwood woman and her severely disabled son triggered an outpouring of generosity among readers.
The account of Maria de Los Angeles Guzman -- an illiterate housecleaner and seasonal farmworker who cares for 26-year-old Miguel Angel in the studio apartment they share -- prompted strangers to offer help in a way that astonished her.
"I almost had a heart attack!" the diminutive 52-year-old said through an interpreter as she recalled getting the news that an auto dealership had paid her $700 rent for five months.
And yet she wasn't expecting anything: All Guzman knew was that a journalist wanted to talk with her because she's a client of Village Community Resource Center.
This newspaper holds its "Share the Spirit" campaign each Christmas to raise money on behalf of various nonprofits like this Brentwood organization, which provides an array of social services. In Guzman's case, however, many readers called wanting to donate directly to her.
All told, the donations paid her rent for seven months and she received about $3,000 more in checks and gift cards for food and clothes.
A color TV that arrived courtesy of the city of Brentwood is angled on the corner of a desk so that Miguel can watch the cartoons and Westerns he enjoys from the comfort of the adjustable hospital bed -- complete with massage function -- that one woman personally delivered.
Asked whether he liked his gift, Miguel, though unable to speak to speak or walk since he contracted meningitis as a baby, nodded and smiled broadly.
"I am surprised how a lot of people are so generous," Guzman said. "I thank God for touching all these people's hearts."
She noted that strangers also have stopped her on the street with a kind word.
"They said, 'Thank you for being a good mother.' They thanked God for the way I take care of Miguel," Guzman said.
Other than a sweater and pair of pants, she says she has bought only food with the gifts of money.
"She's saving -- not using it on things she doesn't need," said translator Juan Francisco Prieto.
Guzman has an added sense of peace these days, and she is thanking God for her benefactors.
"I feel happy because I feel protected by the people who help me," she said.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.