Keeping Christmas Alive for a Single Mom and Her Boys
“The kids always had stockings,” said Shanice*, a single mom in Blue Island, “but there was nothing in them until Angel Tree.” In addition to her two sons, she also regularly cares for two of her nephews.
The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program, which provides Christmas presents to children, teens, and seniors who wouldn’t receive them otherwise, has been the difference between a Christmas celebration and no Christmas celebration for all four boys over the years, a difference that means the world to Shanice – especially considering she learned about the program while trying to keep her family fed.
Shanice was walking to the grocery store one day when a random stranger told her about the new food pantry at their local Salvation Army. He seemed excited about this new offering in their under-resourced neighborhood. At the time, Shanice was living with her mother, a brother, two sisters with one child each, and Shanice’s own son, then a toddler.
“We were all in one apartment, trying to make it,” she said. Shanice was in charge of the groceries, a challenge on the family’s limited means. So a new food pantry nearby was welcome news indeed.
Without a working car, Shanice strapped her two nephews and son into car seats and placed them in a wagon, and they all headed to The Salvation Army Blue Island Corps Community Center. She was amazed by their food pantry. “It was a blessing. So much food. And tissues, shampoo, toothpaste, bleach,” she said. “It was too awesome. To this day it’s awesome.”
Today, 15 years later, Shanice’s sons are 16 and 10. The youngest is on the autism spectrum, and Shanice spends much of her time caring for him – and for her two nephews. She still frequents the food pantry at the Blue Island corps, a place that has become her church, a volunteer outlet, a tutor for her boys, the source of their Christmas celebrations, and a second home to her and her family.
Part of what Shanice appreciates about the help she receives at The Salvation Army is the personal, caring attention of the staff. When her kids were young, they would receive a prize at the food pantry, such as a teddy bear or a coloring book, which always motivated them to behave while Shanice shopped. And she still remembers the week the staff gave her kids chocolate chip cookies dipped in chocolate. “The kids loved it and about lost their minds,” she said, laughing at the memory. “And they gave them individually packed milk to enjoy with the cookies.”
During one food pantry visit, Shanice learned about the Army’s Angel Tree program. At the time, she knew she couldn’t afford gifts for her son, and that her two sisters couldn’t afford gifts for their kids either. The staff at the Blue Island corps signed all three boys up for the Angel Tree program. That Christmas morning, her son and nephews received toys, coats, and a snowsuit, and Shanice received the joy of keeping Christmas alive for her family.
Here, too, Shanice appreciated the personal touches. Her son and nephews enjoyed hot chocolate, cookies, and ornament-making while she and the other parents “shopped” for their kids’ gifts in another room at the Blue Island corps. “They even gave us wrapping paper – the whole nine yards.”
She also received a box full of all the fixings for a Christmas meal and was delighted to learn that the cake ingredients included sprinkles. They were a big hit when she had the boys help her prepare the dessert, including cupcakes they decorated for each other.
A Beautiful Thing
Often when Shanice goes to the Blue Island corps for assistance these days, she asks the staff if they need any help. She has assisted with their daily lunch program for area seniors, holiday meals, the food pantry, and even bell ringing at a Red Kettle at Christmas. During the latter, “Some people said, ‘I’ll put in $20 if you sing,’” she said. She shut her eyes, offered her best rendition of “Silent Night,” and by the end of the evening the kettle was full of donations.
“I wish more people knew about it,” Shanice said of the help available at The Salvation Army. “It means a lot, from a helping hand to encouragement to when I need prayer to tutoring for my kids. It’s very helpful. The Salvation Army is a beautiful thing,”
*Name changed to protect client’s privacy.