La’Swanna Pitts would like to publicly thank someone in Charlotte who helped her last year, though she doesn’t know the person’s identity.
It happened last December when she enrolled her two kids in the Salvation Army’s annual Christmas initiative. The program provided toys to 12,221 kids from low-income families in 2013, and it expects to help as many this year.
“My son got a Charlie Brown book and a stuffed Snoopy as gifts and he’s still sleeping with it a year later,” says Pitts, 32, referring to 5-year-old Ethan.
“It has made all the difference. I can’t even get Snoopy away from him to wash it. He is a boy who does not adapt well to change and we’ve had a lot of disruption in our lives this year. Whoever gave that to him, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Pitts now has a full-time job as department manager at a store and considers herself financially stable. However, she has returned this year to the Salvation Army for help after experiencing a recent financial setback.
On Sept. 29, she suffered a severe beating, which forced her to take several weeks off from work, which in turn led to eviction proceedings.
The incident happened on a date night, Pitts said, when a friend of three years exploded during an argument and began hitting her on the head – while she was driving.
“I tried jumping out of the car, but it was still moving, so I had to jump back in and throw it into park. Then, I jumped out and into a fence,” Pitts recalls. “The swelling was so bad that I couldn’t see out of my right eye.”
Insurance covered a lot of the hospital bills. Her landlord sympathized and backed off on the eviction, and her boss gave her all the time she needed to recuperate.
However, there’s still Christmas to worry about. In addition to Ethan, who dreams of being a firefighter, Pitts has a daughter, Najiza, age 7.
Salvation Army officials say Pitts is an example of the variety of narratives that sometimes force people with full-time jobs to apply for help from the Christmas program, which kicks off Dec. 17.
In some cases, the families only recently found work and have nothing in the bank, officials say. In other cases, they had financial setbacks due to illness, house fires or a recent move from out of state. Still others barely make enough money to cover their bills.
The Salvation Army’s Christmas program is a safety net for such families. It includes the Angel Tree initiative, which allows the public to “adopt” the names of children off trees set up in local malls. In cases where the children aren’t adopted, the Salvation Army buys toys using money donated by Observer readers to the Empty Stocking Fund.
Last year, 7,499 of the children on Angel Trees were not adopted by a donor, agency officials said.
Pitts says her cash crunch forced the family to skip having a big Thanksgiving meal, so her kids have high expectations for Christmas. But if last Christmas taught her anything, it’s that her kids will appreciate whatever they get.
Earlier this year, when the family moved into a new apartment, Pitts said Ethan was so distraught over the change in routine that he refused to walk through the front door. “It took me 20 minutes to get him to come inside,” she said.
In the middle of this tailspin, she says it was the Charlie Brown book and Snoopy doll that gave Ethan the foothold he needed.
“I know whoever gave it to us was thinking it was just something small, but it is the thing that helps me connect with my son,” Pitts says. “When I read it to him, it’s just him and I. Nothing else matters.”