LaShonda Bullock says she nearly died during a two-week hospital stay last year, and a lot of things cross a woman’s mind when she thinks every breath could be her last.
Among the most haunting of those things: What would happen to the kids she is raising after she died?
That would include not just her youngest sons, ages 10 and 12, but two grandchildren, ages 1 and 5 years. On top of that, her 18-year-old daughter recently moved back home with a three month old child.
All are Bullock’s responsibility, even as her health fades at the unexpected age of 36. Something is robbing her body of potassium, something she says has confused her doctors and left her unable to work the past year. She also has a rare disorder called Chiari malformation, which impacts the part of the brain that controls balance.
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The family’s ongoing cash shortage prompted Bullock to register all the children with the Salvation Army’s Christmas program. The initiative supplies toys for children from low-income homes. A large portion of the money to buy toys comes from Observer readers who donate to the Empty Stocking Fund.
Bullock says she hasn’t applied yet for disability benefits, because so much about her health troubles has been mysterious.
“I was sick for three months, and it was my kids who begged me to go to the hospital, which saved my life,” she says. “There was a time when I’d go to sleep worrying I wouldn’t wake up. I started talking to my children about what to do if I wasn’t there. They didn’t want me to talk about it. They didn’t want to believe it could happen.”
Bullock receives child support, which she stretches out with money earned doing odd jobs, including hairstyling, babysitting and working the door of a club owned by her brother.
Her boys – Jacoi, 10, and Dyson, 12 – know money is tight for their mother. She recently learned the two hatched a secret plan to help out by going door-to-door in the neighborhood, selling their toys to raise money. She couldn’t help but be proud.
“Jacoi has the soul of an old man and he’ll come to me and say: ‘Mom, you ain’t got no money, so I’ll help.’ And then he’ll go see what he can do to raise money,” Bullock says. “Of course, I’m not going to take their money, but that doesn’t stop them from trying.”
None of the children want elaborate Christmas presents this year, she says, possibly because they know there’s not much money for spending on such things. Last year, all the toys Santa left actually came from a church in the neighborhood that stepped up to help the family.
Bullock jokes that she’d start selling the furniture before she’d let Christmas pass without some kind of toy for each child. That’s because she believes a Christmas without toys robs children of a certain level of innocence.
“A child that no longer believes in Santa is no longer a child,” she says. “Somehow, it feels like the magic is gone. I want my children to keep believing Christmas is about miracles.”
The Empty Stocking Fund
The Charlotte Observer has sponsored the Empty Stocking Fund since about 1920. Last year, readers contributed nearly $374,000 to buy children gifts for Christmas. All money contributed goes to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, which buys toys, food, clothing and gift cards for families. To qualify, a recipient must submit verification of income, address and other information that demonstrates need. For five days in mid-December, up to 3,000 volunteers help distribute the gifts to families at a vacant department store. The name of every person who contributes to the Empty Stocking Fund will be published on this page daily. If the contributor gives in someone’s memory or honor, we’ll print that person’s name, too. Contributors can remain anonymous.
How to help
To donate online: www.charlotteobserver.com/living/helping-others/empty-stocking-fund/. Send checks to: The Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269. For questions about your donation, call 704-358-5520. For questions about helping families, call Salvation Army Donor Relations: 704-714-4725.
Total raised so far: $202,275