For years, one storm after another crashed into Therra Jaramillo’s life. Last month, an angry new squall rolled in.
Brain cancer stole her husband, dancer John Jaramillo, in 2014, leaving punishing debt along with the bruise on her heart that won’t ever heal.
Sorting things out since then has been a heavy lift, sometimes heavier than Therra can bear. But she doesn’t have the luxury of recovering at a leisurely pace. She supports her brother, a disabled veteran who lives with her. Their mom died years ago after being injured during Hurricane Katrina.
Therra also takes care of rescue animals, on her income as a freelance writer. Last month one of her client publications (whose deadline she of course faithfully met) didn’t pay, knocking her already wobbly budget off kilter.
A friend gave her a lifeline in the form of a Whole Foods gift card, and her shopping trip turned positively miraculous. She lives in Lithonia and trekked to the Briarcliff Road location to stock up on meals for herself, her brother and her pets (two dogs, two cats and a blind chicken named Dixie Licklighter).
Unloading her items, though, Therra realized the gift card wouldn’t be able to cover them all. (There’s a reason they call it Whole Paycheck). She started putting some things back. Then some of her items mingled with the customer’s in front of her.
“I might as well get it,” he said.
She protested, but he insisted on covering her entire haul, all $375 worth.
“I burst into tears,” she said. They shook hands, then hugged. Her benefactor was on his way, telling her he was “just a guy” when she asked his name.
“You know that was Ludacris, right?” the cashier then asked.
Therra Gwyn Jaramillo and one of her rescue pets. Photo used with permission
John Jaramillo, who specialized in flamenco and Native American dance, was once the lead dancer in a children’s show at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian. The production was based on folk tales handed down by Jaramillo’s great-grandfather. Jaramillo, shown here with his and Therra's rescue animals, died of brain cancer in 2014. He was 50. Photo: Jennifer Keenan Giliberto, used with permission.
“I started crying even harder,” Therra said, chagrined she didn’t recognize him immediately. “I love him. My brain was spinning, though. It could have been Elvis.”
The actor, restaurateur and recording artist officially known as Chris Bridges is a community-minded guy who’s one to get personally involved.
When his Ludacris Foundation pitched in during a campaign called Hunger Action Month, for example, he didn’t merely stroke a check to the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Feeding America. He rolled up his sleeves and taught kids at the Carrie Steele Pitts Home how to prepare healthy snacks. Then they all played games. In November he and then Mayor Kasim Reed teamed up to hand out turkeys at the Rosel Fann Recreation Center in south Atlanta.
"We need to be the change we so often talk about," Ludacris said at the time. "We need to reflect more, share more, and love more.”
After Therra shared her story, media outlets picked it up and messages from all over the world started pouring in.
“It’s been a little embarrassing,” she said. But it’s been mostly heartwarming, and she’s come to realize that Ludacris didn’t just pick up her tab. He didn’t just help feed a struggling writer, a disabled veteran and some formerly homeless pets. He made the Internet a happy place for a change.
“People are starved for good news,” Therra said. “They’re starved for good people. This isn’t just about me. It’s about us. All of us.”
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