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A simple trip to the store to get milk for their children turned into a major crisis for Fernando Guerrero and his wife, Cynthia Caro-Guerrero. The couple’s car was hit from behind on Independence Boulevard in Charlotte, causing damage to Fernando’s knees.
Fernando, 39, counts on his body’s strength for the sheet rock he installs in commercial and residential buildings. Since the accident in February, he’s been unable to work until recently.
“I just started working again,” Fernando said. “I have some pain, but I’m working again.”
Fernando’s youngest children — Fernando, 11; America, 8; Jesus, 2 and Alicia, 4 months — registered for the first time for The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte’s Angel Tree program. Dolls, Legos and toy cars were among the toys the kids listed on the forms. They are one of 2,500 families in this year’s program.
More than 6,000 children registered to receive toys and clothes through the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program this year. The child’s family also receives a $25 food gift card. Anonymous donors purchase new toys and clothing listed on the child’s registration form.
When a child’s name doesn’t get matched with a donor, those items are purchased through the Charlotte Observer’s Empty Stocking Fund. For about 100 years, Charlotte Observer readers have been donating to the Empty Stocking Fund, ensuring all children in the Angel Tree program receive toys for the holiday season.
Celebrating The Posada
Fernando moved from Mexico to the United States in 2001, and Cynthia arrived from Mexico in 2018. Together they have five children (Ana, 14, is too old to be eligible for the Angel Tree program) and live in an apartment in East Charlotte.
The family celebrates The Posada, a Mexican tradition and religious celebration honoring the birth of Jesus. It takes place from Dec. 16 through Dec. 24.
They’ve connected with other families in the area who also participate in The Posada through a Facebook group. It’s an opportunity to share the traditions with other people in the Charlotte area.
On Christmas Eve, the family feasts on rice and beans, roasted chicken and other traditional Mexican foods. Bionico, a Mexican fruit salad, is served for dessert.
“We have the meal and at midnight, which is when it’s officially Christmas, the kids open their presents,” said Cynthia, 27. “Right at midnight, we all hug.”
And thanks to the Angel Tree and Empty Stocking programs, the kids will have presents on Christmas morning too.
‘A beautiful partnership’
Last year’s Empty Stocking Fund raised more than $349,000. This money permitted the Salvation Army to purchase more than 11,000 toys for children and 1,741 gift cards for seniors in the Silver Bells program. An additional 821 gift cards were distributed to agencies serving foster children and children and adults with disabilities.
Before COVID19, registration required an in-person interview with a Christmas team member at a dedicated location. When the pandemic shutdown face-to-face interactions, the Salvation Army developed an online system to register for the Angel Tree program.
“COVID made us think differently,” said Major Wilma Mason, area commander for The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte.
The registration link for the program is published throughout the community. New since the pandemic, officers in The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department can assist families and seniors wanting to use the site.
“The police department gives (the link) to their police who are stationed in different communities,” Mason said. “If someone is there who needs assistance for Christmas, they (police) will show them, help them access this online registration. It’s a beautiful partnership.”
How to donate
Donate online: EmptyStockingFundCLT.org.
Mail checks to: The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte, P.O. Box 31128, Charlotte, NC 28231. Make checks payable to The Salvation Army of Greater Charlotte and write “Empty Stocking Fund” in the memo line.
Questions concerning your donation? Call 704-716-2769.
We’ll publish all donors’ names.