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4 little girls have one priceless gift, but Christmas presents would be nice, too

EMPTY_STOCKING_ALARCON
TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com
A modest Christmas tree takes up a small corner of the sparsely furnished east Charlotte apartment that Mario Alarcon and four of his daughters, from left, Belen, 2, Kaylie, 3, Aileen, 5, and Bianca, 7, share with his their mom, his partner of 16 years, and a teenage daughter.

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    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. For questions about your donation, call 704-358-5520. For questions about helping families, call Salvation Army Donor Relations: 704-714-4725.

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It’s hard to tell the four little Alarcon girls are in danger of a disappointing Christmas.

There’s feisty little Belen, the youngest, an impossibly cute 2-year-old in a pink Hello Kitty T-shirt. And Kaylie, 3, who thinks she’s Dora the Explorer from television. There’s also Aileen, 5, who loves boots, and soft-spoken Bianca, 7.

Watch Belen chase them around, waving a half-eaten apple above her head for some reason, and you can’t help but smile.

And yet, look closer.

Belen has plenty of room to chase her big sisters around because there is virtually no furniture, other than a dining room table. The family’s Christmas tree stands alone by a window, twinkling, with no presents to grace its base.

The children’s father, Mario Alarcon, a native of Morelos, Mexico, says it’s been a rough year. Speaking through the translation of his teenage daughter Cindy, he says he works warehouse jobs and others as he can find them.

But he hasn’t been able to get enough hours. Some weeks he only gets three days of work.

“It’s kind of a hard situation with so many children,” he says.

He and the girls’ mother, Miriam Hernandez, oversee their family from a spare two-bedroom apartment off Albemarle Road. Public assistance helps with the rent and food. The four little girls sleep on two twin mattresses pushed together on the floor of one bedroom. Cindy sleeps in the other room.

Where do Alarcon and Hernandez sleep?

“We sleep here,” Hernandez says, in heavily accented English, “with the (four) daughters.”

As the couple, together 16 years, sit at the little dining table explaining the situation, Belen and the other girls chase one another, giggling nonstop.

Aileen lets out a pint-sized lion roar, and Belen collapses to the floor, giggle-spasms shaking her tiny body.

The girls don’t want much for Christmas. Kaylie wants dresses, a Dora the Explorer doll. Belen wants a tricycle.

“A Barbie house,” Bianca says in a shy whisper.

And Aileen would love – what else? – some boots.

Even if they don’t get any presents, Alarcon and Hernandez have given them one priceless gift already: two loving parents.

Frazier: 704-358-5145; Twitter: @Ericfraz
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