Town rallies behind local bakery

SAN BENITO — If it is one thing the residents of San Benito understand, it’s community.

Businesses and residents came together yesterday to sell lunch plates to benefit a local business and family.

La Especial Bakery, a staple in the community, suffered from a fire last week that sent the owner and a police officer who ran in to help, to the hospital.

Both the owner, Enrique “Kike” Orneleas, and the police officer, Miguel Leal, have since been released.

Because of the age of the bakery and the large ovens, insurance companies stopped covering fire damage in the late 1980s.

Orneleas estimated the fire caused $40,000 in damage.

The majority of the damage was to the back of the bakery, where everything is made.

After the fire, the bakery had to close its doors.

But the citizens of San Benito were not going to let that closure be permanent.

In less than a week, a GoFundMe account was set up along with yesterday’s lunch plate fundraiser.

Salome Martinez Jr., who helped organize the event, said it came together with the help of the residents.

Between 70 and 100 volunteers helped set up, make and distribute plates in a parking lot off of Stenger Street.

According to Martinez, the food and materials for 4,000 plates were all donated from local businesses.

“(Orneleas) gives a lot to the community and I believe the community has responded,” Martinez said.

Within the first hour, more than 1,000 plates had been sold.

Ernesto Rodriguez owned one of the catering companies that helped put the event together.

“The bakery is an icon,” Rodriguez said. “It’s history and it’s a part of San Benito.”

Rodriguez said the amount of people that came together on short notice is proof the community sticks together.

“I’m very glad and I’m very grateful,” Orneleas said, tearing up.

Orneleas’ father first opened the bakery in 1939, near the time that Orneleas himself was born.

When Orneleas turned 7, he began to learn the family trade.

Orneleas would have to stand on crates and boxes when he would make the bread and would soon spend hours at the bakery working.

Orneleas said he would never get paid except for the occasional 25 cents his father would give him for the movies.

“He’d say, ‘I’m sending you to school and you got a place to live, what else do you expect?’” Orneleas chuckled.

Orneleas took over the bakery in 1983.

Now, 77 years old, his only concern is getting his family business up and running again.

“It’s going to be awhile before we can open but hopefully not too long,” Orneleas said.

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