Auburn taco eatery aids Claire’s Haiti orphanage

7-year-old girl adopted by Auburn family visits restaurant during fundraiser for New Hope for Haiti
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Maria Moreno’s hands worked double-speed in her Auburn restaurant chopping meat and heating tortillas. But today was far from a normal work day. Instead, it was her labor of love for Haitian relief efforts. Maria’s Mexican Tacos opened on what is a day off for the eatery to raise money for New Hope in Haiti, an organization that helps children like Claire Bryditzki – a 7-year-old now in Auburn who was rescued by her adoptive parents days after an earthquake struck the nation. All the money raised from sales of tacos and other meals is going to the New Hope for Haiti orphanage Claire came from, Moreno said. Diners crowded Maria’s on Bowman Road for a chance to contribute. And Claire was a special guest, a diminutive figure sitting in a new, pink-trimmed winter jacket that customers had to crane their necks to catch a glimpse of. Sonja McEntee of Auburn took part of her day off to lunch with husband Jason, an Auburn Toyota employee. She called Claire’s story inspiring. “Something good came out of something bad,” McEntee said. “Even one good thing makes a difference.” “We saw the picture of Claire at the airport with her sisters on the front page of the Journal,” Jason McEntee said. “It was heartwarming. She looks so happy.” The rare Monday opening was an opportunity for regulars and new customers to give. Many knew the story of Claire – how her Auburn parents had adopted her but then hadn’t been able to secure a visa or passport before the earthquake struck Jan. 12. The flight to safety occurred last Tuesday, with Claire accompanying Scott and Debbie Bryditzki aboard the plane back to Florida. “I’m glad to see it so crowded,” said California Highway Patrol Pilot Jeff Watkins. “Haiti’s story really tugs at people’s hearts.” Others agreed. “It’s important we share our support and love for our brothers and sisters in this world,” said Rick Pisanu, coordinator of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in Auburn. Maria’s stayed open through 4 p.m. and was particularly crowded during the noon hour. Claire’s visit provided a much-anticipated highlight for Moreno. “I’m happy they brought her over,” Moreno said. “It’s beautiful.” Claire reached Auburn on Thursday after a miracle flight in and out of Port-au-Prince’s clogged airport on billionaire Ted Turner’s private jet. She is now the sixth member of the Bryditzki family in Lake of the Pines and visited Maria’s late this morning. She’ll start classes next week at Cottage Hill Elementary School. Because English is new to her, Claire will start in kindergarten, said her adoptive mother, Debbie Bryditzki. The Cottage Hill school will be holding its own fund-raising drive later this week for the orphanage, Bryditzki said. Bryditzki said the family is touched by Moreno’s willingness to devote her day to raising money for the children of the orphanage in Haiti. “We just feel thankful to her and her kind heart,” she said.