For Kathryn, a mother of four who’s taking the GED exam today with hopes of enrolling in college to study nursing, a brighter Christmas is on the horizon.
But it doesn’t appear to be this year.
Kathryn has been unemployed since January, when the Charlotte call center she worked for let her go. She’s been searching for work, but she said the few job leads that have come her way haven’t panned out.
Her fiancé, a machine operator, is supporting the family of six. His salary keeps them in their Rock Hill home with food and utilities. But Christmas gifts are too much of a stretch.
When Kathryn read the letters that her children – a 10-year-old girl and three boys ages 6, 5 and 3 – wrote to Santa Claus, she winced.
The boys asked for remote-control cars, a skateboard, a bike, a plastic tool set, a toy computer and clothes. Her daughter wants a Britney Spears Twister Dance set, Disney Christmas music and an iPad.
“It hurts to look at it and know I can’t afford it,” she said. “Sometimes it brings me to tears.
“Sometimes I blame myself. Maybe if I had done better.”
A team of local agencies known as the Sleigh Bell Network aims to brighten the holidays for Kathryn’s children and for families in similar situations across the county.
The Herald’s Empty Stocking Fund, which raises money to support the effort, is a member of the network along with Toys for Happiness, Toys for Tots, The Salvation Army and Second Harvest Food Bank.
The United Way of York County coordinates the annual mission with a database of families in need. A goal is to ensure no services are duplicated for an applicant.
The United Way is seeking help from the community to make sure everyone who applied for Christmas assistance receives gifts to give their children.
Last year, the charities saw to it that more than 3,400 children had a merrier Christmas.
Anyone can donate. The network is accepting new toys and monetary donations either by mail or at locations across the county.
Toys will go to children up to age 14.
The group also is seeking volunteers to sort through toys, assemble bicycles and bag gifts.
Kathryn looks forward to the future, when she can give back to the network. This year, she’s thankful it’s there.
Her passion for helping people and her ability to empathize with others drove her to pursue a career in the medical field, Kathryn said.
Ironically, she added, those traits were what cost her the call center job.
During her five months at the center, she took calls from customers who were behind on their gas bills. Her job, she said, was to talk them into a payment plan and have them off the phone within five minutes.
She struggled with that.
“I just had a hard time getting people off the phone so quick, because I’ve been in that situation,” she said.
Customers often vented about the reasons they were behind on their bills, and Kathryn tried to console them.
“There was nothing I could do for them,” she said, “but at least I could listen.”
After warnings about her calls topping 10 minutes, Kathryn said, the company laid her off.
Life’s been tough since, but Kathryn said it hasn’t stopped her from working daily with her children on school work.
She makes math flash cards and reads books with them. She also volunteers with the school’s parent-teacher organization.
Losing a job made her focus on future stability.
“I want to have a career,” she said. “I don’t want to job-hop. I want to do something I love to do.”
She knows that will take time – and a little help along the way.
Want to help?
Donate new, unwrapped toys
Shawn Cetrone 803-329-4072