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Charlotte woman offers first taste of holidays to her grandchildren

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  • The Empty Stocking Fund

    Charlotte Observer readers have given generously to the Empty Stocking Fund since about 1920. Last year, readers gave more than $286,000 to buy gifts for children in need. All contributions go to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, which buys toys, food, clothing and gift cards for families. To qualify for the gifts, a recipient must demonstrate need. The name of every contributor will be published on CharlotteObserver.com, with the latest contributors listed daily on Page 2A of the Observer. If a contributor gives in someone’s memory or honor, we’ll publish that, too. Contributors also can remain anonymous. To donate by check: The Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269. To donate online: charlotteobserver.com/emptystockingfund. List of donors: 2A.



The day before Thanksgiving, 7-year-old Bradley accompanied his grandmother to the Home Depot on North Wendover Road, where the two picked out a Christmas tree “bigger than a giant.”

Bradley swears it is the best tree he’s ever seen, but that’s coming from a boy who’s never actually had a Christmas tree. The same is true for his 4-year-old brother Gavin and 17-month old sister Madison, who also came along.

Their grandmother, Alexandra, knows this to be true. But she says she didn’t realize the impact of her $29.97 purchase until the tree was in the trunk of her car and the three mesmerized kids refused to take their eyes off of it during the drive home.

“It was scary,” says Bradley. “We had to go real slow, because if the tree fell out, we’d have no Christmas.”

Explaining that’s not how Christmas works is one of many unexpected conversations 47-year-old the Charlotte woman has had since taking in her grandchildren three months ago.

None of three has celebrated Christmas before, or Easter, or Thanksgiving, or even their own birthdays, she says.

That all changes this year, however. The three are among 12,200 kids from low income families registered to get free toys from the Salvation Army’s Christmas Center. The gifts “from Santa” are paid for in part by donations from to Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund.

Alexandra, who prefers not to give her full name, says she intends to show her grandchildren all the magic they missed while being raised in Silver Hills, Ala., by two drug addicts.

One of those addicts was the second oldest of her three sons, who she says cut ties with her five years ago.

Prescription drugs, meth.… You you name it, and her son and his girlfriend were abusing it, says Alexandra.

“I have to respect them for one thing,” she says. “They called and said they were tired of watching their kids starve and had decided to give them away. I said ‘No, you’re not giving away my grand children. I’ll be in the car this afternoon.’”

And so she got a friend to drive her to Alabama, where they found the children living in squalor in a 1970s-era mobile home at the end of a muddy road.

“They were malnourished, dehydrated, filthy, wearing rags and smelled of dirty diapers,” says Alexandra, adding that all three had health problems associated with being in or around a meth lab.

“Gavin’s skin was pealing off. The baby had crystal meth sores on her legs, face and back, and Gavin and Bradley’s gums were blistered and bleeding. They had rotten spots on their teeth.”

Three months later, she’s still learning things that make her want to cry, including the fact that the two older kids have told her they know how to pack a pipe with “weed” for smoking.

Specialists are assessing the emotional and developmental damage, but Alexandra is optimistic. The sores are fading, two of the three are enrolled in the school system and therapy is going well. They’re also going with her to church, including Sunday School, and have learned to say grace before meals.

She’s also getting unexpected support from her 9-year-old daughter Rain, whom she adopted seven years ago from another troubled home. Rain, who is also getting toys through the Salvation Army, is now a straight-A student and is preparing to run a 5K for charity, she says.

Anthony Miller, one of Alexandra’s brothers, is not surprised that his sister has once again taken in a child in need, or rather, three of them.

“I couldn’t do it. If I spent 24 hours in that house, they’d have to put me in the hospital,” he says. “But even when she was young, she had a habit of bringing home anything that didn’t run from her. She’s got that kind of a heart.”

Alexandra’s endurance was clear Friday, when the four children took control of decorating the tree. More balls hit the floor than made it onto branches. In the process, the kids argued, one cried and hid, and the 17-month-old crawled in the box of decorations and began tossing them in the air like confetti.

The tree still came out looking perfect, at least in the kids’ opinions.

If all goes as hoped, this Christmas will be the start of a new life filled with birthday cakes, Easter baskets and small change from the tooth fairy, Alexandra says.

It won’t be easy, due to her being out of work now for health reasons, but she’s talking a lot about feeling lucky these days.

“I love giving them the things they’ve never had, but it is heartbreaking when you’re dealing with a child that’s never blown out the candles on a cake,” she says.

“Sometime the tears start to flow, but I believe God has blessed me to do this. He led me here. He’ll get me through it.”

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