Santa came early and often to the Moriartys after they were featured in the kick-off story for this season's Light One Candle series on Dec. 6.

Santa came early and often to the Moriartys after they were featured in the kick-off story for this season's Light One Candle series on Dec. 6.

Sabena Moriarty's blended family includes seven kids, ages 16 months to 17 years, and another baby on the way. The 42-year-old mom had been struggling to hold heart and home together while her husband is serving in Iraq as a member of the Oregon Army National Guard.

Gifts ranging from Christmas trees to toys to clothes to free movies to much-needed rent money have poured in, rescuing the family from the brink of homelessness.

"We would have had nothing, no tree, no gifts for the kids," she said. "And I would have been worried sick about where we were going to live. Now I am just so, so, so grateful."

Lying on the floor under the shadow of an enormous Christmas tree that was dropped off at their doorstep shortly after the story ran, Connor Moriarty talked on a cell phone with his dad, Cpl. Stephan Moriarty, 30, on Christmas Eve.

Like his mom and siblings, the 7-year-old boy is missing his father very much. He is also missing his two front teeth.

"I want to go fishing with you when you get back, OK?" Connor said with a gap-toothed grin as he fiddled with the ball atop his red and white Santa hat.

It is hard to be separated from loved ones during the holidays, said Stephan, who had just finished a barbecue with his company in Iraq. But his homesickness was eased a bit knowing his wife and children live in a community that cares, he said.

"It's hard to say how much this means," he said. "Our needs, both physical and emotional, have been met. And the love we've felt from the community is so awesome. It makes it easier for me to focus on the work I have to do here in Iraq knowing my family is being taken care of."

Dee Anne Everson, director of United Way of Jackson County, nominated the Moriartys for the Mail Tribune's annual holiday giving series.

"To be in need and serving our country is incongruous," Everson said. "I am in an incredible state of gratitude to our wonderful community."

In fact, said Everson, the outpouring of generosity was so great, it not only met the Moriartys' needs, but "10 more families were rescued from homelessness this holiday season."

All of the families and individuals featured in this year's series received presents from community Santas. The candidates nominated by Community Works, women and children who have escaped domestic violence and are in the process of rebuilding their lives, were supported in part by those who were once abused themselves but are now in a position to help others, said Gerry Sea, who managed the Light One Candle recipients for Community Works Victims Services this year.

Elisa, a woman who plotted her escape from an abusive husband by slipping a snippet from a HELP-Line brochure in her pocket after a visit to a public library, received gift cards, new dishware, a bathroom set, money to help with her education and gas, a journal and more — including an offer to help mentor her in computer graphics, Sea said.

Sarah, the woman deliberately burned by her abusive husband after she stood up to his taunts and complaints, escaped to a new life with her two children. Sarah received gift cards to take her children shopping, some warm clothing and a teapot and teas. Her son and daughter got the special toys they wished for and more, Sea said.

Debbie was referred to Dunn House, the shelter for women and children who are victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, by an emergency room nurse as she lay in a hospital bed. It was the 10th time she had been beaten by her husband over a two-year period.

Debbie received a camera and a journal, a grocery gift card, a coat and needed household items, including bedding for herself and her two children. Her daughter, Jenny, received "amazing" scrapbooking and craft supplies, games, books and gift cards for clothes, said Sea. Debbie's son, Cooper, got books, a skateboard, an electronic car and Legos, she added.

"Each woman sends her deep appreciation to the community for the help (they) provided," said Sea. "They are touched deeply by knowing there are people who care about them and their children. These gifts and the donors' love and caring help them in their healing process."

Two young girls nominated by the Children's Advocacy Center also suffered horrific abuse. There was quiet Katie, the "problem" child with the drug-addicted mother who remains close to her abuser. And troubled Kenzie, who was raped repeatedly by her stepfather and bears the weight of her mother's blame for his incarceration. But these girls' holiday wishes were granted by strangers who care about children, said Marlene Mish, CAC director. Donations of cash, gift cards, journals, coats, boots, bath products, purses, gloves, scarves, CDs and even a few karaoke machines poured in, she said.

"It is almost impossible to list all that the CAC received," Mish said. "We received so much that we were able to give the girls in the stories a tremendous amount."

Ten more girls in the agency's mentoring program also had "a wonderful Christmas," Mish said.

"This was an amazing outpouring of generosity this year," she said. "We are all very grateful."

Living Opportunities' candidates, Seth and Ron and Cynthia and her son D.J., all struggle with mental or emotional challenges. But each received some holiday cheer thanks to those who responded to their Light One Candle stories, said Jim Gochenour, development director.

"Seth has received everything on his wish list and more — including a laptop, money for his GED, graphics software and a local graphic artist to work with him," Gochenour said.

Ron's equine therapy at Hope Equestrian Center will continue, thanks to the generous donation of cash for his lessons. Furniture, romance novels, crafts and clothes came in for Cynthia and her son. Cynthia's Disneyland vacation dream got a $250 boost, he added.

"Sometimes saying 'Thank you' just doesn't seem like enough," Gochenour said. "We at Living Opportunities are blessed with wonderful community support and caring media."

A young family nominated by Healthy Start received warm clothes, basic toiletries and a toaster oven. Mom, 18, and dad, 20, had no permanent home and a 21/2;-month-old baby. Today the family's prospects are looking much better, said Sonja Herbold.

A grandmother who accepted donations on behalf of her grandchildren wept when she witnessed the kindness of strangers, said Karen Elliot of Community Health Center.

Collette received gift cards, clothes and toys, including special gifts just for little Penelope, "who is feeling much stronger after a serious battle with the flu," Elliot said.

Dozens of messages poured into the Family Nurturing Center in response to the stories of two families struggling to make ends meet while caring for very young children, said Mary-Curtis Gramley, director.

Pajamas, underwear, toys, gift certificates to Food 4 Less and gas vouchers topped the list, Gramley said. One family's gas bill has been paid through March, she added.

"They have a new electric heater and surely enough dishes and cooking utensils to last a lifetime," Gramley said. "Because of this article we not only were able to help this family in meaningful ways, the Family Nurturing Center also made many new friends — which is gratifying."

Jesse, a young teen nominated by Kids Unlimited, struggles to care for his mother and younger siblings after his father moved out. Jesse and his family received food, gift cards and pledges of money to help pay bills, said Tom Cole, director.

"We also received a couple of commitments to assist him and his family after the holidays, which is really very generous," Cole said. "It is an awesome feeling when others come together to help those in need and we are extremely grateful to be able to help that process."

Sabena Moriarty said needing to ask for help, then being on the receiving end of such an outpouring of generosity, has been a roller coaster. It also has provided life lessons for everyone in her family, she said.

She was brought to tears late Wednesday night while reading a letter that came with a check for $1,000, Sabena said. The Good Samaritan wrote that her brother and stepmother had been killed in a traffic accident, she said.

"She said she was using their worldly possessions to help others," Sabena said. "It's just so humbling."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.