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A Christmas to Remember

Christmas will be brighter for all of this year's Light One Candle candidates, thanks to generous community givers.

Would-be Santas were still calling the Mail Tribune Monday morning asking where they could drop off gifts. And not every candidate sponsor reported back by press time. But no one expressed more gratitude for their holiday assistance than Victoria Vinsick, 25,who trod the long and winding path from childhood addiction to sobriety to back into the arms of her five children.

"We got more than I ever expected," Vinsick said, adding the gifts and support mean more to her than she can adequately express.

"It's going to be a better Christmas. That's for sure."

Vinsick was sponsored by the Family Nurturing Center. The center staff at the therapeutic nursery said the family was one of the most needy to attend the center. And their story details the devastation of drug abuse, which landed Vinsick in the criminal justice system and her children, now age 2 though 8, into the foster care system. It also demonstrates the hope of healing, said director Mary-Curtis Gramley.

Vinsick has fought hard for her sobriety. But raising five children remains challenging, Gramley said.

Down to her last $50, Vinsick expressed gratitude to all who sent toys and clothes and gift cards for the children. There is a girl's bike and Hello Kitty clothes and books and body sprays and art supplies and socks and shoes, to name just a few things. The boys also received many toys and puzzles and beanies and gift cards to Walmart, she said.

Vinsick is grateful, too, for the cash donations that have helped with household expenses.

"Five hundred dollars will go to power and gas," Vinsick said.

Also sponsored by the center were Sarah and her four children.

"Her Light One Candle article ran on the same day as the Connecticut shootings, a day when we as a nation were filled with unspeakable shock and grief," said Gramley.

"Seeing our community members come forward with generous donations for her family, Sarah was especially filled with gratitude for her family and for the human kindness that was shown to them," she said.

When Sarah came into the Family Nurturing Center, her eyes welled up with tears of joy seeing the gifts that people had brought for her family, Gramley said.

The family would have new flannel sheets and comforters to keep them warm. The many gift cards will help Sarah buy a new washing machine, stove range and other necessities, she said.

Sarah gave a $25 T.J.Maxx card to her eldest son, allowing him to buy presents for his siblings and experience the joy of giving.

"The holidays often bring with them an air of change, and these gifts will help Sarah in changing her family's lives for the better," Gramley said. "Sarah is beyond grateful for everyone who has donated items to her family, which will make it possible for her to provide her children with a safe and joyful Christmas."

Two special Community Works families are having a Christmas to remember, thanks to the support of the community this year. Shelly and her two sons received gifts (art, science, sports and more), help with their power bill, movie tickets for a family outing and grocery money.

"The help from our community sends a healing message to this family who are rebuilding their lives free of violence — and is something they will remember for a long time," said Gerry Sea, with Victim Services at Community Works.

Teresa and her young daughters have much joy to share at Christmas because of the people who came forward to help them. Girls who thought there wouldn't really be much of a Christmas are excited to see presents under the tree, and Teresa expressed her gratitude to Community Works and each person who has helped, Sea said.

Calls still were pouring in for all five Living Opportunities candle candidates, said Jim Gochenour, development director.

Jessie needed money to continue her efforts in caring for a menagerie of small animals, providing loving encouragement, and paying for immunizations and veterinary care whenever she can. And now she has more than $1,000 in her animal-care fund, Gochenour said.

The three young men with autism who needed money for a new swing set that supports their therapies have moved about $500 closer to their goal.

Jamie, the young man who graduated his high school special education transition program, moved into his own apartment, and started a part-time job only to have his bike stolen, received $1,925 in cash — and four bikes, four locks, two helmets, a bike mount and a bike repair kit, Gochenour said.

"Money will be set aside for regular brake care and repairs and some warm clothes," he said.

Jamie will get his new bike. And so will three other Living Opportunities clients, Gochenour said.

The individuals served by Living Opportunities are vulnerable and often taken advantage of by unscrupulous people. "Six individuals in our Supported Living Program had bikes stolen this year, and many depend on them for transportation," Gochenour said.

The Healthy Start family that had fled domestic violence and needed everything from furniture to toys received about six couches, vintage dressers, nice rugs, pots, pans and glasses, said staffer Cheri Kuykendall.

The extra couches will be given to other clients in need, she said.

Mom and the kids will benefit from the new clothes, the little boy will enjoy his new scooter and helmet, and the baby will have fun learning on his developmental toys, Kuykendall said.

There was even a $100 gift certificate to Walmart donated so the family could do a little shopping of their own, she added.

"They were very thankful for all the generosity, and excited because there are a lot of things to put under the Christmas tree. It filled up the living room real quickly," said Kuykendall, a Healthy Start/Healthy Families home visitor who delivered the gifts last Wednesday.

Young Josh, the Children's Advocacy Center candidate, who found his voice and may have protected not only himself, but his friends, from further sexual abuse, received a new television that he can share with his mom, said Marlene Mish, director.

Josh also got "lots of drawing pads, pencils, paint, canvases, a couple of board games, Crayons and paint brushes."

"He's a very happy boy," Mish said.

Families sponsored by Head Start also fared well, said Barbara Sonday, family advocate.

A widowed mom of three who was recently laid off from her job received more than $675, "enough to pay her rent," said Sonday.

The children received "all the toys they asked for" and someone was kind enough to supply a turkey for the family's holiday meal, she said.

Another Head Start family received "tons of toys and tons of clothes," as well as a good supply of diapers and other requested items, Sonday said.

Both mothers were "overwhelmed," Sonday said, adding that a gentleman from Wells Fargo had donated $250 to each family.

"It's going to be a great Christmas for the kids," she said. "Cassie said she was 'so blessed.' "

Kids Unlimited thanked Mail Tribune readers for helping to provide their Light One Candle family with a very merry Christmas.

This past weekend, single mom Tanya and her two children, Carrie and Jonathan, moved into their new apartment, thanks in part to readers who contributed toward their deposit and part of their first month's rent, said Tom Cole, director.

In addition, the family received donations of furniture, baby items, clothing, household items, food, toys, board games and other miscellaneous gifts requested by the family.

Tanya was extremely grateful and said to Cole, "Thank you for everything. I greatly appreciate it and don't know what I would have done without (readers') assistance."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.