Of the nearly 12,000 children registered this year to get free Christmas toys from the Salvation Army, about a third are kids who were unwanted or abused by their parents.
Those are the children living with aunts, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and foster parents.
Sheila and Lawrence Simpson of Charlotte are among those who have stepped up to take care of other people’s kids.
Two boys now living in their home are among the children registered in the Salvation Army Christmas program: A 9-year-old who was living in homeless camps around Charlotte with his dad, and an 8-year-old who was allegedly burned by his mom. He moved in just last month.
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The homeless boy, who was first written about in a Nov. 30 Observer story, led a nomadic life for years, moving from city to city, school to school, Sheila Simpson says.
He became separated from his dad in uptown earlier this year, when the man disappeared down an alley to find a place to go to the bathroom. A good Samaritan picked the boy up and called police.
Simpson says she and her husband have had to teach the boy basic things like how to bathe and ride a bike. His reading skills are poor, too, she says.
“We took him out to eat not long ago at a restaurant, and he was just overwhelmed. He wasn’t used to going places like that,” she says. “He was used to walking the streets and living in the woods.
“He’s calling me ‘mom’ now,” she said proudly.
The boys have apparently fallen in love with the stability of the Simpson home. However, their stay is considered temporary, so she has committed herself to showing them the best Christmas they might ever have.
They are not the only kids currently in the Simpson house. The couple of 24 years adopted a previous foster child, Amber, whom they took in back in 2008. That was supposed to be temporary, too.
Amber was 8 at the time and had lived a troubled life that prompted her to curse and spit, among other things.
“I got called once by the school after she held her classroom hostage. She wouldn’t let people leave. She had got on a desk and was throwing books,” Simpson said.
Now 14, Amber is part of the family. She’s also a major bookworm, which Simpson sees as proof of just how much the girl’s life has turned around.
“She’s loved, and I showed her that she could feel safe,” Simpson says. “I didn’t give up because I wanted to help her find a better life. She had been bounced to six places before she came here. I knew she could not go back to her family.”
Lawrence is 56 and Sheila is 59, so none of this is coming easily at this stage in their life. Plus, she says she’s dealing with disabilities that resulted from a back injury on the job in 2000. Simpson was forced to retire not long after.
Despite all the challenges of taking in foster children, Simpson says the last time she truly cried was in 1997, when her only biological son, Tony, died in Germany while serving with the military. She has never quite gotten over it.
Simpson also has a biological daughter, Erica, who she says is making her proud as a mother and certified nursing assistant.
If all goes as planned, Amber will make her just as proud some day. Amber is trying to decide right now whether to be a physical therapist or run her own bakery.
That’s the thing with neglected kids. They have dreams, too.