Up to 800 people gathered on the Glendora High School track field Tuesday evening in tribute to Chris Vega, the 18-year-old Glendora High School graduate who died of leukemia Monday.
Although many of the people gathered on Tuesday said they didn’t know Vega personally, many of them followed his valiant battle through updates on various social media sites.
Throughout the past year since Vega was diagnosed with leukemia, community members rallied together to host community blood drives and fundraisers in support of Vega and his family. The story of his battle against leukemia and his family’s financial struggles continued to grow within a tight-knit community.
Vega and his two younger brothers were raised in Glendora and attended schools in the Glendora Unified School District. Vega’s mother, Annie, is a popular teacher at Sellers Elementary School.
When Vega began his senior year of high school at Glendora High School in 2011, he was a well-liked student who competed in cross country.
“[Vega] was the kind of runner who didn’t have immediate talent, but he just kept on working and working,” said his coach Bob Ramsey. “His hard work led him to being one of our best runners.”
Vega competed in what turned out to be his last meet Sept. 24, 2011. Ramsey said the hardworking runner who normally pushed through the pain had become so ill and he could no longer practice. Shortly after, Vega was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
The outpouring of community support since his diagnosis seemed to grow throughout the year. While also stricken with the trauma of Vega’s illness, his family has struggled financially to pay for his mounting medical expenses.
His father, Anthony, lost his job in 2009. With no other net income besides Annie’s teaching salary, the family was forced to file bankruptcy.
As the family’s financial woes continued, Vega’s illness grew more severe. In April, Vega underwent a stem cell transplant at City of Hope.
Friends and family hosted blood drives and fundraisers in support of Vega and his family.
Ten-year-old Carson Alonzo, a fifth grader from Seller’s Elementary, raised $600 selling snow cones for the Chris Vega Fund.
“We are so proud of his heart and compassion to help a friend in need,” said Alonzo’s mother Kimberly Alonzo.
Glendora High School sports teams, including the GHS Football Boosters and the cross country team, raised thousands of dollars for the Chris Vega Fund.
Vega graduated from Glendora High School in June, and hoped to walk with his fellow classmates, but his health continued to decline.
Vega’s mother took a month off from work to be at her son’s bedside. His father maintained his new business A&A Supplies while both parents struggled to look after their children.
On Aug. 27, Vega was rushed to ICU with kidney failure and pneumonia.
On Monday, Vega lost his battle to leukemia with his family at his side. As news of Vega’s death spread throughout the community, people who had been following Vega’s story continued to show their support.
“Chris was the kind of person who stood out for his love for God and his love for country,” said former classmate Ryan Senneff during Tuesday’s candlelight vigil. “He was just a great person to have known.”
Friends and family are continuing to fundraise to help support the Vega family as they struggle to pay the staggering medical expenses, mortgage payments, and now, Vega’s funeral expenses.
The Marino Foundation, a fully registered 501(3)C organization, is aiming to raise $100,000 in 30 days to help support the Vega family during this time. All donations must be made as a check to The Marino Foundation and earmarked for “The Vega Family.” Each donation will receive a receipt for tax purposes.
Donations can be mailed to:
Tom Marino, President
The Marino Foundation
10671 Civic Center Drive
Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730
For more information on the fundraiser, call (909) 476-0343 Ext 101 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.