Editor’s Note: The Salvation Army Angel Tree program that this year will provide gifts of toys and clothing to 2,719 children of low-income families in Washington, Carter and Unicoi counties is once again working in partnership with the annual Johnson City Press Christmas Box holiday food project. The following story is the first in a series that will look at the hardships those families face and what difference contributors to the sister projects will make in their homes at Christmas.
June and Bill, not their real names, were accustomed to living modestly on about $1,600 in monthly Social Security Disability benefits. It wasn’t until last spring, when their 29-year-old daughter and her three children were evicted from their apartment and came to live in their tiny Johnson City home that things got difficult.
Explaining their history, June said she and Bill were both relatively young people in their 50s when they were crippled both physically and financially by illness — June by chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and lupus and Bill by heart disease. But they had taken their fate and their poor financial prognosis in stride. They rented a small trailer and furnished the place with rent-to-own furniture that made their home comfortable if not spacious. Unfortunately, their furniture was the first thing to go when they suddenly found themselves responsible for more children than they could afford to feed.
“I am a mother and that will always be my title,” June said. Their daughter was just getting over a two-year battle with cervical cancer. And when a row with another resident in her public housing development resulted in her eviction, she had no other place to go. “She wanted to save up and get them a place but I know how hard it is paying rent and utilities and I knew she wouldn’t be able to,” June said.
When their furniture was repossessed, they refurnished with what they could find in second-hand stores and a couple of larger items donated by churches. They made do. Bill took to sleeping on the floor so that June and their 2-year-old granddaughter could have their bed. And their daughter and her two older children, ages 5 and 10, shared their other bedroom.
But with a household income too large to qualify for food stamps, groceries became an ongoing challenge. Most days, they have enough for three meals, June said. And when they do not, they go to local pantries for help.
“The kids always want snacks at night. We don’t have that and it’s hard to tell them that we don’t,” she said. But when they run out of milk for the children she begins to panic. “I swear sometimes it can be so hard just to get a gallon of milk,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
And then there are the co-pays on their medicine that June said, “even when they’re just a dollar or two, it’s really hard when that’s all you’ve got.”
Last Christmas, their daughter was in her own home. June and Bill and others in their family chipped in and the children had gifts. This Christmas, they’re doing all they can do just to feed the children and buying gifts will be impossible.
Without the Angel Tree and Christmas Box this year, June said their Christmas would “probably be really sad.” Knowing that there will be gifts for the children from the Salvation Army and Christmas Box food for their dinner, “For me, it’s a gift from God,” she said.
For those who wish to help the family and more than 1,900 others who are also struggling, Salvation Army Angel Trees decorated with paper ornaments bearing the first name, clothing and shoe sizes and Christmas wishes of each of the 2,719 children included in this year’s shopping adoption project are set up at Walmart stores in Johnson City, Elizabethton and Erwin, Sams Club, Steinmart, Sandy’s Jewel Box, Food City in Jonesborough, the Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce, First Baptist Church in Elizabethton, the Elizabethton Star and at the GNC Court located on the upper level at The Mall at Johnson City.
To provide a Christmas meal for the families and for hundreds of low-income seniors in the three-county area, donations to the Johnson City Press Christmas Box of Northeast Tennessee, may be made by mail to P.O. Box 1387, Johnson City, TN 37605. This year’s Christmas Box will provide all the makings of a holiday meal, including a 10 to 12-pound turkey, a 7-pound ham and enough extra staples for several additional meals to families of three or more people and $30 grocery shopping gift cards to households of one or two people.
The Christmas Box is a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit corporation and donations are tax deductible. The newspaper covers all administrative costs of the project so that all monetary gifts go directly to the purchase of food. For more information about the Christmas Box and how to help, call Ron Tipton at the Press at 929-3111, ext. 302.