Since she became a mom, Andrea LaTourette has believed God put her on Earth to care for her daughter Kristin, whose intellectual disability means that at age 39 she is able-bodied but has a childlike disposition and is unable to live alone.
This year, Andrea’s perspective changed.
Doctors discovered in April that she had breast cancer, and through the months of treatment that followed Kristin became Andrea’s emotional rock, attending her daily radiation appointments and constantly asking what she could do to make mom more comfortable.
“I always believed God put me in charge of her because He believed in me,” says Andrea, 63, sitting in the living room of the cozy ranch home the two share in east Charlotte.
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“But now I see it wasn’t just me for her. It was her for me,” she says. “She was every bit a gift to me.”
Most Christmas seasons, Kristin and Andrea treat themselves to a new Christmas DVD and make a special day of lighting a fire in the fireplace and drinking eggnog while decorating their artificial tree.
But this Christmas, Andrea and Kristin are struggling financially. Their Social Security checks don’t stretch far enough to cover their utilities, taxes and some healthcare costs not picked up by Medicaid. In the last month, the two have had to visit a food pantry and seek emergency help from Crisis Assistance Ministry because their water was turned off.
So with the holidays approaching, Andrea is thankful to be getting help from the the Charlotte Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund and the Salvation Army.
Kristin is one of 942 adults with disabilities who will receive a $50 Wal-Mart gift card courtesy of the fund to buy Christmas gifts for Kristin. Andrea, who as a senior citizen qualifies for the Salvation Army’s “silver bells” program, will also receive a Wal-Mart gift card.
Donors to the Empty Stocking Fund will also help buy toys and a holiday meal for more than 10,700 children in need across Charlotte this Christmas.
“I just wanted to bring some normalcy back to our lives,” Andrea says. “I hate for (Kristin) to see the struggles because I don’t want her to fear. I get upset about things, but I tell her, ‘I promise you, it will be OK. You don’t need to worry.’ She trusts me.”
Every Christmas morning, an excited Kristin rises at dawn and she and her mom brew some coffee, light the tree and sip their coffee while Kristin opens her gifts.
Kristin is an avid movie fan who loves to do arts and crafts and care for her three cats. (She’s most attached to Zoe, a black cat who almost never leaves her side.)
“All I care about is her having a great Christmas,” Andrea says. “There’s nothing more satisfying or more gratifying than seeing her laugh and scream out ‘Yay!’ at whatever she gets.”
The Salvation Army has long held a special part in Andrea’s heart.
She grew up hearing stories told by her mother, she says, about how the Salvation Army sent her and her two brothers to summer camp and boarding school during the years when her mother had to work several jobs because her father was unable to provide for the family.
“My mother never, ever, passed a Salvation Army stand during the holidays when she didn’t put what little money she had into the bucket,” Andrea said. “I will remain forever grateful to them, not only for what they did for my mom, but for how they are helping me in such a difficult financial crisis.”
Empty Stocking Fund
The Charlotte Observer has sponsored the Empty Stocking Fund since about 1920. In recent years, Observer readers have contributed an average of nearly $370,000 annually to buy needy children gifts for Christmas. All of the donations go to the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau, which buys toys, food, clothing and gift cards for families. To qualify, a recipient must submit verification of income, address and other information that demonstrates need. For five days in mid-December, up to 3,000 volunteers help distribute the gifts to families. We’ll publish all donors’ names. If the contributor gives in someone’s memory or honor, we’ll publish that name, too. Contributors can remain anonymous.
How to help
To donate online: www.charlotteobserver.com/living/helping-others/empty-stocking-fund/article116262948.html. Send checks to: The Empty Stocking Fund, P.O. Box 37269, Charlotte, NC 28237-7269. Questions about your donation: 704-358-5520. For helping families through the Salvation Army: 704-714-4725.