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San Mateo Resident Uses Her Second Chance to Help Those in Need

SAN MATEO (KPIX 5) -- A San Mateo woman has made giving a way of life, after she herself got a second chance at life.

Find the homeless. Bring them joy. It has been part of Deborah Orler's weekend routine for the last 12 years.

On this particular day, she's handing out donated doughnuts and sandwiches in San Francisco's Tenderloin.

"I could be that person out there on the street," Orler said.

After a heart transplant in 2019 for a congenital heart condition and recovery from decades of addiction, Orler knows every day is precious.

So she spends her days serving people in need, everyone from the homeless to senior citizens and veterans.

"Life is not hopeless, no matter how dark or hopeless things seem. That actually, there's a way out; and I'm proof," she said.


Orler leads a program at her church, Central Peninsula in Foster City, that gives away personal hygiene products.

Volunteers from community groups assemble the donation bags that she hands out for free.

Orler also brings clothes and about a hundred meals weekly to homeless encampments along the Peninsula, inspiring volunteer cooks like Remya Jay.

"If she can go that far to identify the people to be in the places and offer them food, I should be able to do something from my side as well," Jay said with a smile.

In Redwood City, Orler's driving route takes her under the freeway and through the train and bus stops to homeless folks like Richard, who didn't want to use his last name.

"She not only brings the stuff for us and our pets, but she's very kind and she's become a friend to us," he said.

"I become the light that shines for them every week, to bring love and joy," said Orler, who also works at a recovery program and does homecare for the elderly during the week.

LEARN MORE: Jefferson Awards for Public Service

Orler almost lost that light when complications from her heart surgery left her on life support two years ago. She's in heart failure now, but keeps on giving.

When she received a $15,000 community service award, she used it all to buy 450 sleeping bags for the homeless.

"I just need to do this," Orler said of her service. "If it's the last thing I do on this earth, I need to go out and change lives."

The 56-year-old is co-founding a nonprofit, Hearts for Humanity. She's also President of the Kiwanis Club of Greater San Mateo.

So for her passion and compassion for those in need, this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Deborah Orler.

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