Empty Stocking Fund

Charlotte couple take in grandchildren, while dealing with terminal cancer

ogaines@charlotteobserver.com

Steven Hadfield of Charlotte was diagnosed nine months ago with cancer, and his prognosis isn’t good. But he doesn’t talk like a man who anticipates dying soon.

He credits his optimism to the two grandchildren who have become a permanent part of the household. There’s no way he’ll leave the two boys – Demetrius, 1, and Kaiden, 2 – fatherless, he says.

Hadfield works three jobs, but medical bills are still crushing the family, so Hadfield’s wife, Stephanie, registered the boys with the Salvation Army’s Christmas program. The effort will provide free toys to 11,300 children this year, with much of the cost donated by Observer readers to the Empty Stocking Fund.

This will be Demetrius’ first real Christmas, which is like catnip for grandparents.

“Those kids give me something to fight for,” says Steven Hadfield, who is 63. “I love them to death. They are a gift to me every day, and I can’t imagine life without them. They’re all I think about when I go to Atlanta for treatments.”

The boys are children of his wife’s daughter from a previous relationship, who lives with the couple but works a full-time job, making Stephanie Hadfield a full-time mother again at age 52.

Stephanie Hadfield, who has a degree in computer science and engineering, says the family has cut back a lot on expenses, but it’s become clear she’s going to have to find another job.

Salvation Army officials say the Hadfields are an example of clients who were formerly donors to the Christmas program. Many cases involve aging people on fixed incomes who took in their grandchildren.

Stephanie Hadfield says she was a donor for 15 years and would “adopt” as many as five children off Angel Trees, inspired by her own low-income upbringing in Lexington, S.C. She says she sees a little of herself in every low-income child.

“I would often wait until the last minute, to see which children had not been picked for toys, and then I would get a couple of names,” she says. “I felt I was getting the kids nobody else wanted. I never imagined we’d be among the people who needed help one day, but you can be frugal all your life and still never know what might happen.”

It has crossed her mind that this could be her husband’s last Christmas. They’ve been together 19 years.

She plans to make a fuss on Christmas morning, with a big meal of chicken, stuffing, macaroni and cheese and a carrot cake she baked the day before.

“I know we all have got numbered days,” Stephanie Hadfield says. “But I don’t believe in lost causes because no one gave up on me when I was a child. And I believe the Lord made the world round, so we’d never have to stop going forward.”

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. 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: $25,609

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