Janine Bettis-Daniels and her husband, Elijah, appear deeply in love, but they havent bought Christmas gifts for each other since they married nearly 10 years ago.
Thats because they have have bigger worries: They dont have the money to pay their bills and buy Christmas presents for their four children.
I try not to get stressed out, but you want your kids to wake up to presents, said Bettis-Daniels, sounding weary as she looked toward a small Christmas tree in her living room. Financially, were trying to catch up, pay the rent. Its really hard.
She and her husband both work jobs that pay slightly more than minimum wage, so they are seeking help from the Salvation Army Christmas Bureau to get toys for their 12-year-old daughter and three boys, ages 5 to 8.
The program, which helps low-income families, will provide more than 12,000 children with gifts, paid for partially with donations from Observer readers to the Empty Stocking Fund.
Bettis-Daniels prefers to talk about the good times ahead. She plans to go back to college to obtain a bachelors degree. She wants the same for her children. Her daughter, Victoria, is on the honor roll and made the middle school basketball team.
Things are going to get better, said Bettis-Daniels, who said she has a two-year associate degree in early childhood development. We do what we gotta do. I have four kids, and all of them have to go to college.
But the familys financial issues are daunting.
Bettis-Daniels said the monthly bills are late. The couple struggle to pay the $715 monthly rent for their three-bedroom apartment in southwest Charlotte.
The problems worsened in 2009 when Bettis-Daniels said she lost her job at a local Head Start program. Despite a vigorous search, she said she could not find work until September, when she landed a job through a temp agency.
Now, she works 11-hour days at a warehouse, where she packs products. After taxes, Bettis-Daniels said she brings home $300 a week. She acknowledged feeling embarrassed that, at age 34, she makes $8 an hour.
Elijah Daniels, 33, said he works 12-hour shifts at a plant that makes recycling bins, earning $8.50 an hour. He recalls moving to Charlotte from Long Island, N.Y., about a decade ago because it was more affordable and had a slower pace.
The cost of housing is lower in Charlotte, but Elijah Daniels said his wages are disappointing.
That means the family makes sacrifices.
Bettis-Daniels and her husband, who were high school sweethearts, said they could not remember the last time they could afford to purchase Christmas gifts for each other.
To help the children cope, the couple said they emphasize the religious meaning of Christmas rather than gifts. The children, they said, have learned to appreciate even small joys.
Added Bettis-Daniels: I will take my boys to the Dollar Tree, and you would think they were at Toys R Us.
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