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Sisters share false stories of giving back

Rhea and Renee Mendonca
Posted at 11:17 PM, Jun 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-24 07:42:57-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — During this coronavirus pandemic, we’re seeing people step up to help families in the Big Bend, however they can. With many doing acts of kindness to make sure people are taken care of.

Last week, a woman who goes by the name Kayla contacted ABC 27 asking us to help her highlight twin girls who she said was making a difference. Kayla wrote that the teenage girls were secretly delivering groceries to senior citizens in the Big Bend, so we took notice.

We’re now finding out those stories of good deeds were not true.

Part of the email to our station from Kayla read, "Renee and Rhea decided to distribute free groceries to old neighbors amid COVID-19 the twins felt that it was their responsibility to play a part in lending a helping hand to bring a smile on their neighbor's face especially during the COVID-19 pandemic."

There was a GoFundMe account set up where people could make donations. On Tuesday morning, $250 of their $15,000 goal was raised.

When Rhea and Renee Mendonca spoke with ABC 27, they talked about delivering groceries to seniors in communities across Tallahassee. They even told us they recently graduated from Leon High School.

In the days since that interview, we’ve learned that they've told a similar story in cities across the country. We traced their story to at least seven states from New York to Florida, from major cities like Cleveland to small communities like Albany, Ga.

We’ve seen interviews and read news stories highlighting the good things the sisters say they’ve done. Each time, they spoke of raising money to help seniors impacted by the coronavirus.

In every story, the twins tell a local news station or website that they are from that area, at times changing their GoFundMe account location to match the city covering those good deeds.

Through a search of their names, we found both girls were featured on the Kingsborough Community College website as part of a student advisory board.

The school is based in Brooklyn, New York.

In their bios, the girls are listed as students at Wagner High School in Staten Island. It's the same school listed on Renee's LinkedIn account, which puts her location in the Greater New York area, not Tallahassee despite the girls telling ABC 27 they graduated from Leon High School.

The GoFundMe account the sisters say they setup to help their neighbors is now closed.

GoFundMe communications representative Madeline Purdue sent ABC 27 a statement saying, "I can confirm that we removed the campaign and all donors have been refunded."

While the GoFundMe account has been shut down, this story is far from over.

The girls' mother told us they would talk to us Tuesday night but they never showed up for our scheduled Zoom meeting. We called multiple times and only got their voicemail.

ABC 27 will keep working to speak with Renee and Rhea to get answers on why they told these stories across the country. We also have a lot of questions about Kayla, the woman behind connecting the twins to news outlets.

We want to apologize for not catching on to their false story sooner.

At our station, we have policies in place to keep stories like this one from ending up in your homes. In this case, the appropriate steps were not followed. We will do our best to make sure that does not happen again.