Opinion: Finding Meaning 

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Another Laguna Good Samaritan 

By Skip Hellewell

Haven’t you wondered about that New Testament story, “The Good Samaritan?”

I get the message that compassion towards people who are different, even hated, is unusual but also unusually blessed. The question is, believing it’s based on a true event, what was the name of that good guy? And why couldn’t the guy behind history’s best-known act of kindness get a little credit?  

A friend told me about another Good Samaritan story right here in Laguna. To fully appreciate it, you need the back story. It begins with a six-year-old girl who, in 1979, fled her native Cambodia with her father, spent six years in a refugee camp in Indonesia, then came to America at the age of twelve. She grew up, married, had four children, and then, to help support the family, went to work in a donut shop she later bought. Her kids all took turns working in the shop, but Jackie also taught them the importance of education, a blessing she missed. All her kids have graduated from college. One became a social worker, an accountant, an author and a lawyer.

The kids aren’t around to help anymore, but Jackie has no plan to retire. “I’m happy here,” she says, “and I love my customers.”  

By now, most will have figured out I’m talking about Jackie Nam, the lady behind the counter at South Swell Donuts in South Laguna. If you’ve been there, you’ve experienced Jackie’s love for her customers, and likely heard her greeting, “How can I help you, honey?”

Jackie Nam stands behind the counter of South Swell Donuts in South Laguna. Nam was recently the beneficiary of an anonymous Good Samaritan. Photo/Skip Hellewell

After 24 years of serving donuts and coffee and a dose of her infectious happiness, she’s a Laguna institution. That’s the backstory. Last May, driving home through Laguna Canyon after her usual thirteen-hour workday, Jackie’s car was hit by another auto, and she was seriously injured and hospitalized. South Swell was closed for a while, but with bills mounting, Jackie struggled to reopen her shop despite working from a wheelchair. There was a lot of work as Jackie daily makes up to 30 varieties of donuts and rolls from her six-dough recipes and also prepares seven flavors of coffee, plus other breakfast treats.  

One day, a customer saw her plight and rolled up his sleeves. Over the past summer, he has come in each morning at about 4:30 a.m. and helped with the more difficult tasks of cleaning, setting up tables, baking, and making runs for supplies. He’s a Good Samaritan for sure, but one who keeps coming back, day after day.  

Who is this remarkable guy? I was about to share his name, but the thought struck me that I actually didn’t have his permission. And like the original Good Samaritan, he just might prefer to keep his kind acts private. It’s all part of the rich fabric of Laguna: A one-time refugee who, despite what she modestly dismisses as “a tough life,” loves her customers and an anonymous Good Samaritan who gets up early, day after day, to give her a hand. Serving others anonymously—there’s meaning in that.  

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected]

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1 COMMENT

  1. We all love Jackie @ South Sweet Donuts! Thank you for this wonderful tribute to her. It’s certainly well-deserved.

    Jackie plays a big part in making SL a special Laguna Beach community so anyway to keep her with us is greatly appreciated. Hugh thanks to the caring and generous helper.

    Visit soon and often. Try the Cronuts!

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