Wife and mother Christina Marks is perpetually upbeat, so she refuses to dwell too long on the fact that she lost a job in August that was her family’s chief source of income.
The optimist in her sees this as an opportunity to go back to college and attend culinary school, and she says she has already registered to attend classes at Central Piedmont Community College in the spring.
But Christmas is a tough time to be broke, particularly with four children, ages 6, 8, 10 and 11.
So Marks and her husband, Army veteran Temon Marks, recently registered with the Salvation Army’s Christmas program, which expects to play Santa to 11,600 low-income children this Christmas. It’s estimated half the toys will be purchased with money donated by Observer readers to the Empty Stocking Fund.
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Christina Marks is not the kind of woman who easily asks for help, but she says her children live “in a crazy world,” and believing in Santa is an antidote for the barrage of stuff they see on TV, at school and on the streets.
“Once they lose sight of Santa, and the bit of hope he brings to their lives, everything changes,” says Marks, who is 36. “It wasn’t like this when I was growing up.”
Marks is among the thousands of Charlotteans who are originally from someplace else, having come here seven years ago for a better life. She’s originally from Philadelphia, where she met her husband, a former soldier who’d had run-ins with the law while readjusting to civilian life. They’ve been married nine years.
Christina says Temon, 35, is a changed man, who is both a great father and “the love of my life.”
He found a job just last week, detailing cars for an auto company, which suggests things are looking up.
“She is the only person in my life who never gave up on me, and I pushed to test her,” says Temon Marks. “She had a rough childhood and overcame a lot herself, and that just impresses me more. She’s the reason I put my kids first. We’re trying to give them the things we never had.”
For now, Christina Marks is handling their financial challenge the old-fashioned way, doing odd jobs that include giving people rides, baby-sitting and cooking cakes or entire meals for acquaintances. Their landlord is helping out, by allowing her to pay the rent in increments, she says.
Her vision is to finish culinary school and have her own restaurant. Temon Marks has a dream, too, of going to school to learn welding. But he plans to wait his turn, after his wife graduates.
There will be years of struggle between now and then, but Christina Marks believes there could also be a lot of joy, including plenty of Christmas mornings.
“The best Christmas I had growing up was when I was 7 and my mom bought me a Baby Alive doll,” she says.
“My mom told me we couldn’t get it, because she couldn’t afford it. But there it was on Christmas morning. I remember thinking: ‘Santa is real, because he got me the doll my mama could never afford. I’ve never forgotten that feeling.”
It’s a feeling she wants her own kids to know, and “maybe they’ll one day understand what it means to sacrifice things for the people you love.”
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 needy 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. Total raised so far: $15,623.87