Empty Stocking Fund

Christmas help from strangers is ‘just a blessing’ for mom and her kids

Lamona Rivera couldn’t stop the tears of gratitude last Friday when Salvation Army volunteers brought out bundles of Christmas gifts for her two kids, 7-year-old Antonio and 6-year-old Londyn.

For Antonio, the avid reader, there was a LeapFrog learning toy, along with a jacket and pair of sneakers. Antonio has cerebral palsy and wears braces on his legs, so it’s something of a miracle that the shoes are just the right style to accommodate his braces, his mom says.

For Londyn, there was a new bike to put under the tree, along with a pair of roller skates, a Barbie car and two new Barbies.

Rivera, a single mom who works as restaurant server, said money is tight. Her kids know not to ask for extras like toys during shopping trips, but during Christmas she wants to reward them for being good all year.

Antonio has worked his way out of special education and now is a leader in his first-grade classroom. And Londyn excels at gymnastics class and is picking up so much Spanish in her bilingual kindergarten classroom that she’s teaching her family the second language.

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Siblings Londyn Grier (left) and Antonio Rivera are excited about their Christmas wish lists: a bicycle and skates for Londyn, and a reading technology device and games for Antonio. Money is tight at Christmas for their family this year, so they’re getting help from the Salvation Army’s Christmas program. Courtesy of Lamona Rivera

“When you have kids that are so excited about life and doing good, you have to reward them,” Rivera says. “You want them to be rewarded, because they’re both such good kids. … I don’t have the money to do that for them, but it’s a program like the Salvation Army’s that will make it OK.”

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This year, Londyn and Antonio are two of approximately 7,300 children who will receive gifts this Christmas thanks to the Salvation Army’s Christmas program, which matches children in need with anonymous donors who buy the gifts.

Some 1,400 seniors will also receive gifts as part of the program.

In cases where donors don’t come forward, Charlotte Observer readers cover the expense by giving to the Empty Stocking Fund. Money raised by last year’s fund allowed the Salvation Army to purchase 6,056 toys and 456 gifts for low-income seniors.

Each child will also receive a new backpack this year, so Empty Stocking funds were used to purchase 8,000 backpacks and 20,000 small items to stuff inside them.

Children in the program range in age from infants to 12 years old.

Rivera had to take some days off this month to take care of Antonio, who was sick and had to miss school.

Her bosses at Showmars Restaurant are very understanding when she needs days off to take Antonio to doctor appointments, she says. But she works for tips and on days she doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid.

The Salvation Army’s program “took a huge weight off my shoulders, because I had to take days off in December. The money I thought I needed for Christmas just wasn’t there,” Rivera said. “When it looks like there’s no way, God makes a way,” she said.

On Christmas morning, the kids will eat a quick breakfast - “because they’re so excited to open presents” - and mom, Antonio and Londyn will sit together under the tree, put the gifts in little stacks in front of each child, and open presents one at a time.

The kids will spend the day enjoying their new gifts, and Rivera will reflect on the generosity of strangers who made it possible.

“It’s just a blessing,” she said.

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