Theres a sad story behind every one of the thousands of kids registered this year with the Salvation Armys Christmas Bureau, but none is as unusual as Alexandra Campbells explanation of how she became the guardian of a girl named Rain.
It begins six years ago in her hometown of Elizabethton, Tenn., with one of those moments when a woman does something against her better judgment.
Alexandra, 46, was visiting the home of an acquaintance and it was there she saw a filthy, hollow-eyed toddler sitting on the floor, playing with two mismatched shoes. The girls mother was clearly an addict, and it was easy to guess the boarding house was a makeshift meth lab, due to the smell and black trash bags taped over the windows.
Only later did Alexandra see the cigarette burns on the 1-year-olds legs, and learn that shed been traded by her mother to a pedophile in exchange for drugs.
I was thinking I cannot get involved in this. I had already raised three sons, the youngest was 17, and I was home free, says Alexandra, who prefers not to give her full name. But then my heart melted when I saw the girl poke a hole in the plastic to see outside, and so I asked if it was okay for her to come stay with me in Charlotte for awhile.
Rain is now 8 years old, living permanently in Charlotte, and one of 14,000 kids registered to get toys this year from the Salvation Armys Christmas Bureau. Without it, there would be no Christmas for her, Alexandra says.
Thats because Alexandra, who is divorced, has suffered a series of financial setbacks during the past nine months due to spine surgery and hasnt been able to go back to her job in internet marketing. She lost her house, moved to an apartment and has only enough money to cover essentials like food and utilities.
It has been a growth experience, says Alexandra. It has drawn me closer to God. Id go through it all over again to bring me to this place with the Lord.
Shed also go through it all again with Rain, who came with her share of health problems. She only spoke a few words and was occasionally violent due to issues with post traumatic stress disorder and reactive attachment disorder.
Those ills were made worse by the fact that Rains mother kept occasionally asking Alexandra to the bring the girl back to Tennessee. Alexandra had no choice but to comply, up until the day she got full legal custody of Rain in 2007.
Meanwhile Alexandras sons questioned what their mother expected to accomplish.
I told my mom that it was not a good idea to bring that girl home, admits Jason, 30, one of Alexandras sons. My mom was single, and with the economy the way it is, I thought it was kind of a crazy idea.
His opinion has since softened, and he believes his mother saved a girls life that day six years ago.
Meanwhile, Rain has matured and mellowed, thanks to therapy, patience and prayers every night before bed. She is very thoughtful, Alexandra says, but still likes to sing and dance like a kid around the house. Shes also big into painting.
If you met her, you wouldnt notice anything was wrong, says Alexandra. I thank God every day for the privilege of being her mommy. Its one of the great blessings of my life.
And she owes it all to that moment six years ago, when her heart melted and she did something against her better judgment.