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Donors, Observer readers join together for countless acts of kindness at Christmas

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If you want to know how seriously Charlotte residents take their spirit of giving, look no further than what happened to Christy and Christopher Angle.

The Charlotte couple and their two children, ages 1 and 4, were without a home and Christopher needed a job when the Observer wrote about them three weeks ago as part of the Empty Stocking Fund series.

Now they have both, in just one example of how the community responded to the needs of 6,000 families registered to get help from the Salvation Army’s annual Christmas Bureau.

The Angles – who had been staying the past 14 months in the homes of various relatives – were offered not one but two places to live. Readers also called with offers of toys, furniture and even food.

Such acts of kindness for the Angles and other needy families came in addition to the record more than $300,000 in cash donated by Observer readers to the Empty Stocking Fund. That money will help cover the cost of toys for next year’s Salvation Army Christmas program.

In the case of the Angles, their “best-ever Christmas” came through a combination of help from readers and charity efforts. Their new home is being provided through the Salvation Army’s Rapid Rehousing program, which uses temporary rent subsidies to help homeless families get back on their feet. Crisis Assistance Ministry is also providing some free furniture once they move in, which Christy expects to happen in two weeks.

Meanwhile, it was a call from a donor in need of a mechanic that led to Christopher Angle finding work last week.

“I can’t imagine any dream that hasn’t come true for us,” says 34-year-old Christy. “My husband has a job, and we have a place where our babies can lay their head at night. We’ve been blessed.”

Salvation Army officials say what happened to the Angles is one example of many cases in which donors or volunteers went beyond what was expected of them, including:

• A Charlotte Fire Department inspector who stepped up to provide toys for a disabled woman who had rescued her three grandchildren (ages 1, 4 and 7) from their drug-addicted parents. And he asked to remain anonymous.

• At the WFNZ/WCNC Toy Drive on Dec. 13, a man dropped off 17 bikes donated by a group that included Carolina Panther DeAngelo Williams.

• A few days before the Christmas Bureau opened on Dec. 18, Nancy Helms of Monroe and her oldest daughter, Libby Hale, showed up with seven bikes bought with donations from family and friends.

The point, Helms said, was to honor her late husband, Lester Helms, who was known for driving around Charlotte on Christmas Day, giving toys to random children “missed” by Santa. He died 7  1/2 years ago and the family has given away bikes in his name every Christmas since, she said.

“We felt it was a tradition we needed to carry on,” said Nancy Helms. “My husband was raised very, very poor, and he knew what it was like to not have a Christmas. That’s why he started passing stuff out and why we do all we can every year.”

Shelley Henderson of the Salvation Army said one Observer story in particular set off a “firestorm” of offers to help: a Dec. 23 feature about father Mario Alarcon and his four preteen daughters, who live in an apartment with no furniture.

A half-dozen readers responded with offers of gifts, furniture, clothes and a basket of holiday food with a gift certificate tucked inside. Henderson delivered that basket on Christmas Eve and noticed the family’s only furniture was a dining room table.

“The mom (Miriam Hernandez) had tears in her eyes as she explained that (Alarcon) was going to take the kids to a store on Christmas Eve, and that’s when she was going to set all the wrapped presents under the tree,” Henderson said. “The kids had been warned Santa was coming, she told me, and they’d get back to find he’d been to their house.”

Henderson said she had witnessed countless other acts of goodwill in recent weeks but the best way to sum up Charlotte’s Christmas spirit is to look at the Observer’s daily list of donors to the Empty Stocking Fund.

Rather than names, many made their gifts in honor of someone else, she observed.

“Two donors in the list stood out to me,” Henderson said. “One says ‘for all God’s children,’ and the other said for ‘my parents, who cared about all.’ We’re all human and we all make mistakes, and that’s the spirit in which God wants us to serve others.”

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