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Monday, September 22, 2014
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Published: Friday, 12/10/2004

A lottery miracle

WINNING the lottery anytime, anywhere, by anyone, is cause for celebration. But occasionally the winner is as remarkable as the achievement is unlikely. The woman who won the recent California lottery suggests only half jokingly that perhaps she got help winning the $27 million jackpot from cherubs above.

It wouldn't be entirely surprising considering the work to which Debi Faris-Cifelli has dedicated her life. Since 1996 she has been a crusader for saving abandoned babies, and she's the chief mourner when the forsaken infants are found dead in trash cans and alleys.

In eight years, Ms. Faris-Cifelli has buried 70 deserted babies in small unmarked graves under a white cross in her tiny Garden of Angels cemetery. "Maybe it's the children saying, 'Thank you' for taking care of them when nobody else would," said the happy lottery winner.

Maybe. The 49-year-old mother of seven also helped push through the state's law that gives parents three days to surrender a newborn without fear of prosecution.

California is one of 46 states, including Ohio, that have such laws. The purpose is to give frightened and panicked parents an option that protects abandoned infants with no questions asked. Ms. Faris-Cifelli devotes her time to educating the public about the law, lobbying for similar laws in other states, attending trials of mothers accused of abandoning their infants, and, of course, laying the dead to rest.

She does it all with a three-person staff and an annual budget of $172,000 covered by donations, grants, and car washes.

After she and her high school counselor husband use some of the lottery winnings on their children, Ms. Faris-Cifelli plans to put most of the money back into spreading the word about her crusade. She laments that so many still know so little about safe-haven laws. The state advertising budget is too sparse to buy even one statewide TV commercial to inform the public.

"It just hurts me that we don't talk about it until there's a baby who's lost its life," said California's newest lottery winner. But Ms. Faris-Cifelli and her husband are already brimming with ideas on how to spend their new fortune to change things for the better, with more lives saved and fewer mourned at a tiny gravesite.

Looks like California hit the jackpot with its Good Samaritan.



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