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A brighter Christmas

Family togetherness, often touted as a hallmark of the holidays, has new meaning for an Ashland family.

A specialized van that can accommodate Victor Suarez’s wheelchair allows the 23-year-old father to accompany his fiancée and infant daughter on errands and excursions outside their home. Donated in response to the Mail Tribune’s annual Light One Candle campaign, the van represents an $18,000 value to the couple who have lived on disability since Suarez was paralyzed playing a semi-professional football game earlier this year in Medford.

“It means so much to me,” said Suarez. “It’s almost like more freedom.”

That newfound freedom, he said, was a completely unexpected outcome of the family’s involvement with Healthy Families Oregon, which works to strengthen parent-child relationships. The social-service program, under the umbrella of Medford’s Family Nurturing Center, was among 10 local agencies that nominated client stories for the newspaper series.

“The community support has been incredible and will make, not just a Merry Christmas, but a long-lasting difference in the family’s lives,” said Glenda Peterson, home visitor for Healthy Families.

Generosity sparked by Light One Candle promises a brighter new year for 13 local families emerging from the shadows of domestic violence, sexual abuse, drug use, failing health and other misfortunes. Donations from newspaper readers will furnish these families’ homes, outfit them in new clothing, pay for transportation and utilities, put presents under their Christmas trees and fill their holiday tables with food.

“One of our donors was in tears,” said Vicki D’Alessandro, rental programs coordinator for ACCESS Inc. “She even gave her Christmas bonus (from work) to this needy family, saying that ‘they need this more than we do.’”

The kindness of complete strangers overwhelmed many recipients, who previously lacked self-worth and felt isolated by their circumstances and alone in their community. In several cases, recipients’ greatest wish — the chance to make memories with loved ones — will come true.

Travel to the Oregon Coast awaits two clients of Living Opportunities, one with terminal cancer and one who wanted to meet her father. More than $1,000 was pledged to pay for each woman’s fuel, meals and lodging, along with a week’s free stay for the cancer-ridden woman and several friends at a local resident’s vacation home.

Reuniting with a beloved friend is the holiday surprise in store for a single mom of twin baby girls. The 24-year-old woman, who fled from her abusive husband, will have a warm Christmas with new blankets and financial assistance for her electric bill, as well as diapers, clothing, toys and books for her 6-month-old daughters, arts and crafts supplies and groceries.

Families with twins factored into several agencies’ stories, including a Medford family of seven working with Court Appointment Special Advocates. The entire family’s wish list was fulfilled to the tiniest detail, said Wenonoa Spivak, CASA’s director of programs and education. Handmade quilts in family members’ favorite colors complemented new clothing, craft supplies, remote-control cars, board games, Barbie dolls and stuffed animals. The family as a whole received a new shower curtain, a huge white teddy bear to share and gift card to Fred Meyer.

A considerable cash donation also will benefit a Central Point family with two sets of twins, ages 8 and 1. The 29-year-old mother who was suffering from postpartum depression has enough funds to add to a few holiday gifts she received for each of her five children, who wished for dolls, trucks, educational toys, craft supplies and clothing. A second family, nominated by Central Point Head Start after the mother, 20, suffered multiple miscarriages and stillbirths, are receiving clothes, art supplies, toys and cash donations.

“She offered hugs as she cried and couldn’t believe that being new to our area, she was receiving such an outpouring of love,” said Jodi von Brandt, Head Start family advocate.

Also new to the Rogue Valley, a family of three felt the entire community’s support since sexual assault forced them from their former home elsewhere. Bicycles are a boon for the preteen girl and her 10-year-old brother, who also received Target gift cards to pick out toys, clothes and other items to replace favorites left behind in their recent move. Their 39-year-old mother, who works two jobs, has enough gift cards and cash donations for a holiday meal and festive decorations.

The Christmas tree for a single mother and 8-year-old daughter comes with a hefty gift: a double-door refrigerator with ice and water dispensers. The woman, 47, who recently moved into a Central Point apartment with assistance from ACCESS, also received brand-new Cuisinart cookware, two new sets of sheets, two handmade quilts, new clothing for her daughter, a turkey and gift cards.

Gift cards for fun, family outings will ease the stress of a Medford family recovering from sexual abuse. Donors supplied everything that the 38-year-old mother and her 15-year and 5-month-old daughters requested, including clothing, books, a baby blanket and musical toy. Children’s Advocacy Center, which is serving the family, also received a sizable donation designated for its overall operations and mission to help more children.

Extending a helping hand came naturally to a Medford mother with two children who slept on the floor of a fifth-wheel trailer. Bunk beds delivered to the boy, 8, and girl, 4, didn’t fit in the family’s dwelling. But when she realized that gift cards and monetary donations would purchase beds in the right size, the mother, 45, asked for permission of Maslow Project caseworkers to give away the first set to another family in need.

Bedding, housewares and a bicycle trailer also were donated to a “gentle giant” who resides in an assisted-living apartment managed by Living Opportunities. Cash donations allowed Kids Unlimited to purchase food and gift cards for a Medford family of five.

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.