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'My kids have Christmas now'

Open hearts and sympathetic spirits are the season’s greatest gifts for a teen survivor of sexual assault and other recipients of Mail Tribune readers’ generosity.

Students of the Crater High School Transition Program embraced the story of a 16-year-old girl who yearns for advanced education, a chance to play sports and, above all, acceptance among her peers since molestation and rape stole her childhood. Facing their own fears of fitting in, 13 students in Celine Buczek’s class composed hand-written letters of encouragement for the girl to accompany $400 in clothing, sportswear and gift cards.

“That kind of support — even more than the money — was just a profound thing for her healing,” said Susan Moen, who represents the teen client of Jackson County Sexual Assault Response Team.

“They know the power of healing,” said Buczek, whose class of 18- to 21-year-olds donated the majority of proceeds they raised from picking and preserving apples to a girl they’d never met but with whom they felt a connection.

“It’s nice for her to know that her story meant something to other people.”

Stories in the newspaper’s annual Light One Candle series sparked an outpouring of sentiment for 11 local families and two individuals who have endured homelessness, domestic violence, chronic illness, disabilities, drug use and other hardships. Donations to nonprofit organizations on these clients’ behalf have furnished homes, supplied sturdy clothing, paid for education and counseling, piled gifts under Christmas trees and filled holiday tables with food.

“I can’t believe what this town has done for us,” said a 41-year-old mother of four who fled her abusive husband a month ago. “My kids have Christmas now because people read our story and cared enough to help.”

Bedding and clothing were the Medford family’s most immediate needs, fulfilled beyond the expectations of Community Works, which advocates for the family and arranges its temporary housing. Gift cards for groceries and cash donations will help the mother save money toward an apartment. The kids — age 5, 8, 13 and 16 — will celebrate Christmas with a play kitchen and other toys, books and passes to Tinseltown.

Movies, rock climbing, YMCA memberships and other playful pursuits outside their cramped quarters will cheer up a Medford family of five. Small appliances, bedding and clothing will ease their worries from cancer, unemployment and homelessness. Many donors to Maslow Project on behalf of the parents and three children were, themselves, cancer survivors, said case manager Kirstin Cronin. A few offered their phone numbers if the family wanted to confide in someone, said Cronin, and one family issued an invitation to its Christmas dinner.

Meals away from home are vital for a single mother who makes frequent trips to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland for her youngest daughter’s cancer treatments. In addition to restaurant gift certificates and gas cards, funds to shop at Albertsons, Fred Meyer, Target, Walmart and other grocery stores will benefit the Medford family of five. The 4-year-old girl whose health has been so precarious can cuddle with new dolls, stuffed animals and fuzzy blankets.

A 5-year-old boy’s hospitalization at Doernbecher split up his family after a traumatic car crash. Recently reunited in Medford but lacking furnishings for their new home, family members received kitchen appliances, dishes, bedding and other household goods. Toys for the three kids, clothing and hundreds of dollars donated to Maslow Project on their behalf are a warm welcome to this family’s new community.

Warm wintertime clothing is essential for a Medford family who walks to work, school and everywhere else. New coats and other outerwear will shield them from the elements while a new washer and dryer will lighten some of their load. Children’s Advocacy Center in Medford also received a microwave, blankets, bicycles, gift cards for groceries, football-themed items for the father and jewelry for the mother of a 9-year-old boy.

A trip to see his mother for Christmas is a delight for a 21-year-old man with developmental disabilities. Awaiting his return to Medford are warm blankets, jackets, gloves, hats, socks, slippers, shoes and other clothing to replace items damaged when broken plumbing flooded his apartment. A $250 cash donation to Pathway Enterprises on his behalf will augment savings for a new apartment. And professional attire will aid his search for employment.

A Medford father of five who recently lost his job was overcome with emotion as he received numerous Christmas gifts for his children. The kids, age 2 to 12, will enjoy a play vacuum, tricycle, doll with clothing, Legos and football-themed attire. The father’s desire to take his family camping was acknowledged with a donation of camp chairs. Healthy family meals are the mother’s goal with a new hand-held mixer, slow cooker and kitchen knives. The entire family, clients of CASA of Jackson County, can look forward to family nights at restaurants and the movies, funded with gift cards.

Family evenings spent indoors are a dream come true for a single mother of five, expecting her sixth, who was homeless just a month ago. Donations to ACCESS Inc. entirely furnished her new rental residence in Medford.

“The house was completely bare, and now she has a couch; she has chairs,” said ACCESS’s Matthew Vorderstrasse, who traversed the county from Gold Hill to Ashland Thursday to pick up furnishings, housewares, bedding — including handmade blankets — and other gifts.

A local family made a special toy donation for each child, age 1 to 11, to open on Christmas. Another donor assembled a crib for the new baby, who also received clothing and toys.

A crib for a 6-month-old girl and toddler bed for her 2-year-old brother are among the new amenities of a Talent family’s trailer. The family of six also received blankets, toys and $200 in monetary donations to Kids Unlimited that will help the mother pay fees for her college courses.

More education is the dearest wish of the 16-year-old survivor of sexual assault. The majority of cash donations — about $1,300 — to SART on her behalf will provide tutoring to prepare the girl for college, said Moen. Donors, many living on their own lean budgets, also pledged funds to the girl’s counseling and participation in sports.

“She was completely overwhelmed,” said Moen of her client’s reaction to the donations.

The lesson is generosity is likely to become an annual tradition for Buczek’s class, which also gained practical experiences in operating a business and budgeting for purchases.

“They were so thrilled at how much money we raised,” said Buczek. “My students were just beaming.

“It’s such a great way to take the focus off receiving.”

Freelance writer Sarah Lemon, who also writes a food blog for the Mail Tribune called "The Whole Dish," can be reached by email at thewholedish@gmail.com.

Tara Williams, right, with her family Laila Salazar, 11, left, Harmony Williams, 6, Maleah Williams, 2, and Cali Williams, 1, wipes away tears after Matt Vorderstrasse, with ACCESS, delivers a truckload of donations for the family's new rental home on Thursday. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch