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Once-thriving family hurt by layoff

By Kathleen McKenna
Globe Correspondent / November 28, 2011
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The South Shore mother who recently appealed to Globe Santa for help providing gifts for her children is accustomed to helping children in need and not seeking help for her own child. But her life, like the lives of so many affected by the crippled economy, has taken a turn for the worse.

“We have found ourselves in a situation we never imagined,’’ she said in her letter to Globe Santa.

This mother of two said she has been teaching underserved children for 30 years in a local chapter of Head Start - the nationwide nonprofit dedicated to providing educational and health services for children in low-income or at-risk families. Her career is rewarding, she wrote, but her salary is not nearly enough to meet even the most basic needs of her family of four.

The mother, her husband, her teenage son, and her young daughter were getting along fine until two years ago, when her husband, the family’s main breadwinner, lost his job as an administrator at a prestigious university.

Both he and his wife were confident, she said, that he would find a new job right away, which was essential because he had been denied unemployment benefits.

“But we were mistaken,’’ she wrote.

The only job he has managed to find is stocking shelves at a department store.

He takes any shifts he is able to get; most are overnight. During the day he continues his search for a job that is better suited to his education and expertise.

By now, his wife added, they are struggling to pay the mortgage and hold on to their home, which has become a monthly challenge.

“My husband and I have both depleted our savings accounts, and our pension and retirement funds,’’ she wrote.

“We have also been forced to cancel our life insurance policies and empty our children’s college accounts.’’ If they had not made those sacrifices, they would not be able to pay their day-to-day expenses.

Last spring, the once-secure family had no choice but to apply for food stamps, and the longtime teacher of children in need found herself alongside her students’ parents at the local food pantry, accepting donated groceries.

She goes on to say that both she and her husband have experienced hard times before.

When she was 13, her mother died after a long illness. Her father, who struggled with mental-health issues, committed suicide soon after. Her husband’s parents both died when he was 17, leaving him to raise two preteen siblings.

“We know all too well what it feels like to go without,’’ she wrote. “And we would so like to spare our two children from experiencing that feeling at such a young age.’’

But there is a bright side.

Her son, who is old enough to understand that holiday gifts are not guaranteed for all, is a source of strength for the whole family.

“He does whatever he can to help his sister understand how blessed we are just to have each other,’’ she wrote.

It is that little girl whose Christmas morning will be brightened, she said, if she is able to open gifts from Globe Santa.

“We understand how many families are seeking your help,’’ her mother wrote. “So we humbly ask for any assistance you are able to provide this holiday season.’’

Since 1956, the Globe Santa Fund has collected donations from the general public. One hundred percent of that money goes toward buying toys and other gifts for Boston-area children. Last year, the program fulfilled the holiday wishes of 56,000 girls and boys in 167 communities.

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