Empty Stocking Fund

Wreck causes Charlotte mom’s life to unravel as finances take hit

Tanesha Garner needs help with Christmas gifts for her children Tyler Walton, 10 (left) and Tei'anna Garner, 12.
Tanesha Garner needs help with Christmas gifts for her children Tyler Walton, 10 (left) and Tei'anna Garner, 12. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Single mom Tanesha Garner is an example of what happens when a family living paycheck-to-paycheck runs into something they were praying would never happen.

In her case, it was lost transportation that started the dominoes falling.

Faulty brakes resulted in her car being totaled in a wreck. Without a car, she lost her job as a certified nurse’s assistant. Without a job, she lost her home. Without a home, she and her two children lost their belongings.

It’s been a year, and Garner is still struggling financially, which is why she recently enrolled her children – Tyler, 10, and Tei’anna, 12 – in the Salvation Army’s Christmas program. The two are among more than 11,000 children registered to get free toys, with much of the cost covered by Observer readers who donate to the Empty Stocking Fund.

Garner, 31, says the past year has been one filled with humbling experiences for the family, including an initial plan to stay at Charlotte’s overcrowded shelter for women and children. Family members stopped that from happening, however.

“I didn’t want to be a burden on anybody,” Garner says. “But my mother said: ‘I may not have much, but what I do have is yours. I’m not letting my grandchildren stay in a homeless shelter.’ She knew we’d get on each other’s nerves but wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

The family stayed with her mother for most of the year, then Garner got lucky and qualified for housing through the newly announced initiative, A Stable Home. The program is a collaboration between the Charlotte Housing Authority, A Child’s Place and Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.

Its mission is to find stable housing for the estimated 4,000 CMS students whose families are staying in the homes of friends or relatives, due to a financial or health crisis.

The Garner family is among the first 16 households selected for A Stable Home, which provides federal housing vouchers for parents and educational guidance children. The family moved into its new home this summer, she says.

“It was funny when I tried to cook our first meal and I only had one pot,” Garner says. “I used that one pot to cook everything. And we had no plates, so we ate everything in bowls. My kids actually loved it.”

Garner, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., still needs a car and a job, but she’s optimistic. Her income tax refund may help supply money for a used car, and she’s had several promising job interviews. She is also enrolling in certification classes that she knows will make her more competitive for higher-paying jobs.

Her goal is to be a registered nurse and work in a hospital, which would allow her to earn enough money to possibly buy her own home one day.

In the meantime, Garner says she and her children feel they are destined for better things in the coming year. Tyler and Tei’anna would like bikes for Christmas, but Garner says they’re more than grateful just to have their own rooms again. They were among seven people living in her mother’s three-bedroom house, she says.

“There was a time not long ago when I didn’t know where I was or where I’d be going with my life,” Garner says. “I feel blessed now compared to where I was a year ago, sleeping on my mom’s floor. On Christmas morning, I’ll be happy just to wake up in my own place with my children by my side.”



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: $89,464