Darlene King has boxes full of beautiful Christmas ornaments, many handmade by her daughters when they were little girls.
Even though it's the holiday season, she keeps them tucked away in storage, waiting until the day she can finally move out of her flood-prone basement apartment. With two daughters in college and with herself, facing a slew of serious health problems, including AIDs, times are hard.
She hadn't planned on doing much celebrating.
"We don't have the finances," said King, who gets by on Social Security. "So we have come to the conclusion in the last five years that every single penny we have has to go to [her daughters'] school."
Yeah, well, that was before we picked King to be one of 10 winners of the Daily News' third-annual Oprah-style Holiday Gift Giveaway. Overnight, the mother of two went from having no Christmas presents to having an assortment of products and merchandise worth more than $1,000.
She had to divide it among her daughters and a friend just to cart it all away.
Here's a sampling of what all she got: a $110 gift card from Macy's to buy Coach moccasins; a $25 gift certificate from Shake Shack; rain boots from Roozt.com; bath treats from Lush worth nearly $75; and a $25 gift card for holiday cookies from Classic Cake. There are even a couple new Christmas tree ornaments for her stash.
"You can believe that my family is totally excited," King told me. "My daughters are staking their claims . . . I tell them, 'Let mommy decide what she wants and the rest can be for you all.'"
See why we do our annual holiday gift giveaway?
This is supposed to be the happiest time of the year. But a whole lot of us are white-knuckling it as we struggle with the things life throws all of our way: the death of a loved one, economic uncertainty, job loss, mortgage foreclosure and medical problems.
New earrings from Traci Lynn Fashion Jewelry may not make your problems go away, but they sure can put a smile on your face.
A lot of you must agree, because we got several hundred emails and letters when this year's Giveaway was announced. A common theme among readers was their frustration about not being able to find work. One man, whose felony record has made his job search nearly impossible, nominated his girlfriend, who recently dropped out of nursing school to get another job.
"She works about 16 hours a day between two jobs, with only two days off every two weeks," Kyle Williamson wrote. "All this and she still only makes enough to barely cover rent and pay maybe one utility bill while postponing the others until a later date. I am unemployed and help out around the house to try to lighten her load, but nothing I do seems to help."
Inez Nelson nominated her son, Kevin Kush, because he's been in a funk about being out of work for seven months. He's looking for a job in construction - or whatever he can find at this point. We asked the Camden resident what he intended to do with all of his gifts, and he said, "Give them to my girl." (His mom, though, might have something to say about the $42 gift card for Spanx tights.)
We also heard from people who'd lost their homes through foreclosure and single mothers who not only care for their kids but also for aging parents as well.
The hardest letters and emails to read were about readers suffering from late-stage cancer and other life-threatening ailments. Choosing the 10 winners was tough, but some choices were easier than others.
Take, for instance, Taylor Mallory, a student at St. Joseph's University, who in December 2011 got the kind of news that no one ever is prepared for. Her older sister, Margo, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cervical cancer. A week after doctors discovered a large tumor, Margo was in surgery. Chemotherapy came soon after that. Margo, who worked as a nanny for three young boys, tried to be strong. She developed a mantra for kicking the disease - "Bam It" - and blogged about her ordeal.
In June, though, the Mallory family got the news they'd been dreading: Margo's cancer was back. Nearly 50 of her relatives and friends pushed forward anyway with plans to go to the Dominican Republic for Margo's destination wedding. She was drained and weak but Margo had her day.
It's a good thing she did. A month later, Margo died, leaving behind a husband, a twin sister, two younger sisters and her parents. The West Chester resident was just 24.
Her family is trying to move forward but calling it difficult is an understatement. Lindsey King, who plays soccer with Taylor, nominated her teammate, writing, "Since Margo's death, we have started a Hawks vs. Cancer foundation in honor of Margo . . . [Taylor] dedicates every day to Margo, and I think she and her family are the perfect candidates for this giveaway." We couldn't agree more.
Merry Christmas, everyone.