Phyllis Boykin’s mother died a decade ago at 93, so Boykin can’t be blamed for expecting to live another 30 years.
But that’s only if she gets a needed kidney transplant.
In the meantime, Boykin, 68, is going through dialysis three times a week. This health crisis comes at a time when the retired cosmetologist is raising the last of five grandchildren left in her care. She was 42 when the first of them arrived, and she says they just kept coming after that.
Christmas promised to be a sad affair at her home, due to a cash shortage. But Boykin is among 1,300 seniors signed up for a little know Salvation Arm’s Christmas program called Silver Bells. It provides gifts for low-income seniors in the community.
In all, about 6,000 households will be helped by the Salvation Army this Christmas, the bulk of them parents with children age 12 and under. The agency says just over 11,000 children will get toys this year, with much of the money coming from Observer readers who donate to the Empty Stocking Fund.
Boykin went to the Salvation Army to register her granddaughter, but learned the girl is too old at 13. “I’m not sure yet where I’ll get her Christmas gifts,” she says. “I don’t have the money.”
Surprisingly, a kidney is not Boykin’s most pressing need this holiday season.
A car is at the top of her list, too. The family is getting around in a 1999 Chevy Venture, with 200,000 miles and windshield wipers that seldom work. It also leaks power steering fluid.
Boykin, a mother of two, also needs sheets for a queen sized bed and a set of pots.
“I had a plan after the last of my children left home that I was finally going to try and match my handbag and my shoes, but there was no money for such things after the grand babies showed up,” says Boykin, whose children are ages 43 and 48.
“I took in my grand kids out of love. I didn’t want to split them up and lost in the (foster care) system, where I would never find them again.”
Salvation Army officials say household necessities are the most common request made by seniors in Silver Bells, which saw an uptick in registrations this year.
Experts say this could be a sign of the times for Charlotte. Over the next five years, the city is expected to see a 20 percent increase in the number of people over age 60, well above the national average. People in their 60s make up the largest age group in the Silver Bells program, though at least 20 people in the program are between age 90 and 102.
Boykin is currently surviving on Social Security and gets $181 a month to cover the cost of raising the 13-year-old still in her home.
It’s her health that remains the big unknown. She says her kidney was removed in June of 2014, after suspicions were raised over her extremely high blood pressure. It was kidney cancer, doctors said.
It’s unclear to her when she’ll get a new kidney, but Boykin is not discouraged at the lengthy wait. In fact, she refers to herself as a fighter who’s only more determined as the months have passed.
“I want my health back. I’ve lived so much of my life trying to save everyone else, first my own kids and then my grand kids,” she says. “Now, I’m trying to save me.”
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: $279,392