Posted by Pat Reimann, Christmas Assistance Coordinator
If you have ever “adopted” an Angel tag from one of our Angel trees - in your workplace or at a mall - you may have wondered how the name of that child ended up on the tag. Here is how it came to be that we asked you to provide eight year old “Cara” with a coat, a Hannah Montana game, and other gifts. (To protect confidentiality this is a composite of a typical family receiving Christmas assistance)
Cara is an eight year old girl. She lives in Dallas County with her mom, dad, and 3 year old brother. She attends a school near one of The Salvation Army Corps Community Centers. Her dad, Daniel, works in a warehouse; and her mom, Lydia, works part time cleaning houses. Some days her little brother Danny is a huge pest, other days she loves him to death – most days both are true simultaneously.
A few weeks ago the counselor at Cara’s school was invited to send some families to the nearest Salvation Army center to apply for Christmas assistance. As a result, the counselor sent home a “referral appointment slip” for Lydia to go to the Salvation Army last Tuesday morning at 10 AM. The form outlined the documents and other information Lydia should bring with her. On that morning Lydia was seated with other mothers at one side of the Salvation Army center’s gymnasium, until her name was called.
At 10:30 “Trina” asked Lydia to come to her interview station. After a few minutes of introduction and explanation of the process, Trina began to fill out the application form. She looked at Lydia’s ID, and filled in the name, address, phone number and other basic information.
Then it was time to dig into the details of Daniel and Lydia’s finances. Trina learned that Daniel worked in a warehouse and made $11/hour; and that Lydia had a part time cleaning job that brought in $50/day for about 3 days each week. A particular challenge for the family at this time of year is that the business Daniel works for is seasonal in nature. He works full time in the spring and early summer, but his hours are often shorter in the fall and winter. At best, the family income is around $2,400/month. This puts them well over the Federal Poverty Guideline for a family of their size - $1837/mo - which means they are not eligible for many government benefit programs.
Trina then asked Lydia to do her best to document their household expenses.
• Lydia pays a neighbor lady $15 a day to take care of Danny on the days that she is working.
• The family spends $162 each month for monthly bus passes. They save quite a bit since they don’t have the costs of a car payment, insurance, gas, etc.; but it does limit their employment opportunities since they can only work at places on a bus or train line, and on schedules that fit with public transportation.
• Lydia estimates that she spends around $600 each month at the grocery store. This means she is a very careful shopper, since this is less than the amount expected for a family of that size ($668/mo to $755/mo).
• As for most families, the largest expense is housing; rent/mortgage plus essential utilities such as electric, water, gas, etc. Rent used to be a little lower, but as Danny has gotten older they felt they needed to have a three bedroom apartment so he had his own room rather than sleeping in the living room. For Lydia’s family these expenses are now $1,100/mo. (this is over 40% of their budget, which puts them in a hardship category)
• Neither Daniel nor Lydia’s employers provide health insurance, so the family tries to rely on free clinics or the county ER (emergency room). However, Danny has issues with asthma and they often spend over $350/month on care and medications.
Doing the math on income and expenses Trina determines that Lydia’s family is truly in need; so she gets to go to the next step; the fun step – being one of Santa’s elves who makes “the list”. Young Danny needs a twin comforter for his new bedroom; and he’s got a real fixation on Buzz Lightyear of Toy Story. Cara has grown like a little weed in the past two years and really, really needs a new coat; and she is a huge Hannah Montana fan. Trina also enters information on all their clothing sizes, in hopes that an Angel sponsor will provide some of those needs as well. Danny is constantly running around and is so hard on his shoes and socks. Trina’s school wants kids to be in khaki and navy uniforms.
And that is how it came to be that you saw Cara’s tag hanging on an Angel Tree, asking for a coat and a Hannah Montana game. But it didn’t end there. Before Lydia left, Trina gave her some handouts about other programs at the Salvation Army center – after school tutoring, summer day camp, Sunday School, a soccer team, and a planned music and performing arts program.