When Sue Moore decided it was finally time to live out her dream of opening a coffee shop, she made sure The Nook Coffee Bar in Huntersville had a Salvation Army Angel Tree among the tables so customers could help children in need.
Three years later, the shop is closed, the familys savings are used up, and theyve barely kept their house out of foreclosure twice. The only Christmas gifts their youngest son will receive this year are from the Salvation Army Christmas Bureau.
Jack, who is 10, is among 12,200 kids being helped this year by the Christmas Bureau, which gives away toys paid for in part by The Charlotte Observers Empty Stocking Fund.
The bureaus mission is to help families who are struggling during the holidays and cant afford gifts, which describes the Moores.
Sue Moores husband, Mike, 49, lost his job as a contractor for Time Warner Cable in 2009, which meant the 70 people working for him also lost their jobs. The Charlotte couple tried to bounce back in 2010 by investing their savings in a coffee shop and drafting their two oldest sons, Terry and Joe, to serve as staff.
But their timing was smack in the middle of the worst recession in a generation.
The shop closed in the summer of 2012, leaving the couple from Buffalo, N.Y., in debt and facing the threat of a lawsuit over breaking their lease.
Sue Moore, 50, admits its been quite a tumble from charity donor to recipient, from business owner to part-time greeter at a restaurant, and from living the dream to selling her wedding ring to keep the house out of foreclosure.
During the tough times, her husband resorted to doing maintenance at a local college.
My husband is the hardest working man Ive ever met, and this all hit him hard. When he lost his income and I had to close the coffee shop, it was like two Titanics going down, she said.
I wallowed in pity for a couple of days after it closed. But I have children, and I had to show them that you keep going, no matter what life throws at you.
They have four sons, three of whom have gotten jobs to help the family cover its bills. The two oldest, 20-year-old Terry and 22-year-old Joe, are waiters at the same restaurant where their mother is a greeter. Eric, 18, works at Food Lion.
Hard times seem to have made the brothers closer, an example of which occurred last December when the three oldest boys asked their cash-strapped parents not to buy them Christmas gifts.
Instead, Eric, Terry and Joe told their mother to spend any spare cash on toys for Jack, who was 9 at the time.
Wed all had plenty of Christmases as kids, said Terry Moore. And it was only fair that Jack have his.
Jack was still believing in Santa, said Joe Moore, so it was the right thing to do.
This fall after Jack turned 10 Sue Moore explained to him that Santa was not a physical person but a spirit of giving that lives in the hearts of people. Then I told him that his brothers didnt get gifts last year because they wanted him to have all the presents, and he started crying, she said. He told me that next Christmas, he didnt want any toys. He wanted them all to go to his brothers.
The family is grateful to the Christmas Bureau this year not only for Jacks toys, but also because it has given Sue Moore a temporary job connecting homeless families with sponsors willing to buy gifts for entire groups of siblings. So far, she has helped 70 such families. Its only two months of work, but Moore is glad to have it.
Lindsay Duncan, who coordinates the agencys holiday programs, said she has seen Moore cry more than once listening to the stories of parents who are jobless and even homeless. It has come full circle for her, from donor to client to staff, said Duncan. People pour their hearts out to her because they can tell she understands.
One of the hardest lessons Moore said she learned is that sometimes things fall apart no matter how hard you work. She was putting in up to 80 hours a week trying to keep her coffee shop going, and her sons postponed college to be there with her. They did it without pay, too, she added.
Toward the end, her dream became a burden for the people she loved.
But some good things came from all that failure, she said.
Moore knows now that the man she married 25 years ago actually meant it when he said for better or for worse. Her sons have become men with good hearts, who will sacrifice their own dreams for the sake of each other. And she found a new perspective on life that came only after the so-called necessities had been sold off one by one to pay bills.
The family is finally regaining its financial footing through reinvention.
Mike Moore recently earned his state certification for car inspections and is the manager of a garage. Sue Moore said she has been offered a job working at a veterinary clinic, starting in January.
And the three oldest boys are thinking about college again, though the family isnt finding the money easily.
Sue Moore will be among those helping when toys are passed out starting Wednesday. She knows that some parents will walk in believing the world is a bad place and that God has abandoned them.
The greatest gift the Christmas Bureau can give, she said, is proof that theyre wrong.
The Christmas Center is the face of hope, Moore said. Thats what we do here. We give these people hope for a new year, and hope can change the world.