Wake County

Wheeler: Already thinking of Christmas, and the needs ahead

Burgetta Eplin Wheeler

Last Christmas, with her paycheck from working part time at a local mall, Yolanda Adams of Raleigh was able to give her three children some needed clothes – but few toys.

This year, the retail store where Adams worked for three years has gone out of business. With no job, Adams had little hope for a happy holiday. So, along with hundreds of others in the same financial fog, she waited in an hourslong line this week to sign up her children – ages 8, 4 and 1 – for the Salvation Army’s Christmas Cheer program.

“Times are hard out here,” she said. “I’m a struggling mom just trying to take care of my kids.”

Those who work with the Salvation Army of Wake County know that times are hard. The nonprofit is expecting to serve more than 8,500 children this year, up from about 7,800 last year.

“We’re hoping it doesn’t increase that much, but we’re preparing for it,” said Haven Sink, director of public relations for the nonprofit. “We certainly have seen just as many families in need. It doesn’t seem to be decreasing.”

It might be a little hard to think about Christmas before Halloween has even passed. Yet how haunting it would be to be a parent already struggling to feed and house a child with the specter of an empty Christmas hanging over you, too.

Almost 900 people snaked quietly through ropes at an old Winn-Dixie on New Bern Avenue in Raleigh to sign up 1,340 children on Monday alone. By late Wednesday, 4,987 children were registered to receive clothes through the Angel Tree program and toys through the annual Toy Store.

A paycheck away

Sink has been sadly surprised by the number of first-time clients, including a UNC-CH graduate, a psychology major, who got laid off this year.

“She had never had to come ask for this kind of help before,” Sink said. “As a UNC graduate, it really resonated with me because so many of us are a few paychecks away from being in that condition.”

Sink also tells the happier story of a 2011 recipient whose financial situation improved this year, prompting her to call to see how she could help somebody else’s children.

“That’s what we want to happen,” Sink said. “We want to help people get back on their feet so in the future they’ll be in a place to give back.”

Once the signups end Saturday, the nonprofit will need businesses and volunteers to host or staff Angel Trees, to conduct toy drives or to help with the Toy Store distribution in December.

This week, Nancy Coble of Raleigh was helping for a second year, sitting with parents and entering their children’s information into one of a bank of computers.

“They’re usually very quiet, so I always try to make them smile when they come. That’s why I wore my earrings today,” she said with a big smile, flicking the plastic candy corn dangling from her left ear. “Everyone I’ve had has been so sweet. I can’t get enough of this. I love every bit of it.”

How quickly the candy corn displays will turn to candy canes now. How sweet it would be for our hearts to turn toward remembering what it feels like to be a child on Christmas morning.

“That’s the thing we love about the Christmas program,” Sink said. “No matter what situation led them to being where they are, we know these clothes and toys are going to kids, and that these kids are going to have a great Christmas. That’s what it’s all about. Meeting the needs of kids who can’t meet them themselves.”