The basics: Serge Haitayan, 51, owns the 7-Eleven, Belmont Car Wash and 76 gas station in southeast Fresno at Belmont and Clovis avenues. He is married with two daughters and lives in Clovis.
What he does: For seven years, Haitayan has purchased and donated thousands of new coats for students at Turner, Bakman, Fancher Creek and Temperance-Kutner schools near his Fresno business. Earlier this month, he gave away 500 coats. Often several times a year at the schools, he drops off food for hungry students and snacks for "school movie nights." For the past four years, he's provided Thanksgiving dinner fixings for many students and their families. He also gives free Slurpee coupons to teachers to pass out as incentives for good school work.
Why he does it: "This is my neighborhood -- I've been here 23 years," Haitayan said of the community around his business. "If every small businessman stepped up and did his share, this world would be a much better place."
The turning point: Inspiration for the coat donations came on a cold morning while talking to the principal at Fancher Creek. "We are standing outside, and he's looking at these kids coming out of the bus," Haitayan said. "It is cold, and kids are wearing flip-flops and no jackets. Some don't show up to school because they don't have jackets. And I said, 'How about I get you some jackets?' and he said, 'How?' I said, 'I'll buy them.' "
Details, details: Haitayan started donating food in the early 1990s, when he said the neighborhood experienced an "ugly" crime wave. As he watched people leave and donations dry up, he told himself, "I guess this is when you step up, Serge."
What others say: "When families are displaced, homeless, or have lost their jobs and can't buy food, I give him (Haitayan) a call and within the hour, we have cartfuls of food," said Rosalinda Hernandez, office assistant at Bakman Elementary. "Anything he has, he brings ... We love him ... He's just a generous and caring person." He's made a big difference for Bakman, Hernandez said. "Especially during the holidays, the need is very great," she said. "We have lots of families that are field workers or in production, and this is the season where they lay them off."
How you can help: Says Haitayan, "You can help by stepping up and doing something similar."
-- Carmen George