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Holidays marred by house fire, no job, mounting bills

Charlotte woman hopes gifts will make Christmas bright for two kids

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  • The Empty Stocking Fund

    Newspaper readers in Charlotte have been contributing to the Empty Stocking Fund since about 1920. Last year, readers contributed nearly $270,000 to buy needy children gifts for Christmas. All money contributed goes to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, which buys toys, food, clothing and gift cards for families. To qualify, a recipient must submit verification of income, an address and other information that demonstrates need. For five days in mid-December, up to 3,000 volunteers help distribute the gifts to families at a vacant department store. The name of every person who contributes to the Empty Stocking Fund will be published on this page daily. If the contributor gives in someone’s memory or honor, we’ll print that person’s name too. Contributors can also remain anonymous.



A house fire that leaves you homeless for weeks is bad luck.

If you’re also between jobs, as was the case with Patricia Prince, it can be a family disaster.

Yet 58-year-old Prince’s streak of bad luck got even worse in October, when her teenage son nearly died at college due to an allergic reaction.

Few would argue that Prince has had a tough six months, starting with that May kitchen fire. And now comes the financial crunch of Christmas.

She is the legal guardian of two other children, ages 5 and 7, who are convinced Santa is going to bring magic – and a new Easy-Bake Oven – back into their home on Dec. 25.

It’s an expectation that will likely be met, thanks to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, which will provide toys to 14,000 children this year. The gifts are paid for in part through the Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund.

The Salvation Army encourages parents to credit Santa for the gifts and that’s fine with Prince, who waited in line nearly six hours to sign Jeffrey and Iyannah up to get gifts. She has been raising both since they were just a few months old.

“I love them like they’re my own and part of me wishes that they could have the kind of Christmas like you see on TV shows,” says Prince, a child care specialist who moved here from Connecticut three years ago. “I never told the kids there was a Santa, but of course they believe and I’m not taking that from them.”

It’s definitely been a tough year for them, she says, noting the kitchen fire in May that left the family living in a cramped hotel room for several weeks.

Her 19-year-old Michael suffered second- and third-degree burns in the fire, when he tried using a fire extinguisher to put out a grease fire.

It was also Michael, an aspiring Web designer, who spent two days in intensive care in October after he had an extreme allergic reaction to something he ate at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh. He’s going to end up repeating the entire semester of school.

The entire family could use a little good luck, she says.

“I’m usually in a position of helping other people this time of year, so it not easy for me to be on the receiving end,” she says.

“It takes a lot for me to ask someone for help.”

But she has vowed to swallow that pride with a smile, because that’s what parents do when it comes to kids and Christmas.

Maybe that’s part of Santa’s magic.

Price: 704-358-5245
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