Three Detroit children who are about to spend Christmas without their mother are experiencing the meaning of "it takes a village."
A TikTok video made by the children's neighbor has prompted a wave of donations and support for the young children and their father, 33-year-old Donald Wilson.
The children's mother, Lakenya Wilbourn, died in her sleep in August six days before her son's birthday. She had been struggling with high blood pressure for years.
The family's neighbor, TikToker Colin McConnell, knew he had to do something. So he made a video about them . The responses then flooded in.
"I made an Amazon wish list ... I adopted a family and you guys now adopted the family with me," McConnell said in a follow-up video showing dozens of boxes filling his home on Nov. 20. They were filled with Barbies, coloring books, mittens, snowsuits, a princess tent, and a bunch of dry goods that will last months or longer.
The kids even got new bunk beds.
"Buckle up! Your TikTok family is coming in hot!" one user wrote. "Packages coming. Hope it helps this young family."
A new normal
Before Wilbourn's death, she and Wilson shared custody of the children. They'd spend Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays with him while she had them during the week. Since she died, 5-year-old Donald Jr., 4-year-old Poetry and 1-year-old Honesty have been living full-time with their dad.
Wilson, a prep cook at a casino hotel, said that the kids know their mother has died but that he doesn't think "they really understand the gravity of it,” said a prep cook at MotorCity Casino Hotel.
McConnell shared the family’s story to his 370,000 TikTok followers on Nov. 16.
As of Friday afternoon, the video had more than 345,000 views and more than 26,000 heart reactions. The public has also donated over $10,000 in cash donations and gifts to the family.
Father met love of his life working at casino
Wilson met Wilbourn when he got a job at the MotorCity Casino Hotel in Detroit. She worked there for 12 years as a server.
“We fell in love right away,” he told USA TODAY on Friday. “She was vibrant. She was beautiful. She was one of those people who stayed determined. Being around her gave you confidence.”
She made their whole household glow, he said, later adding that the two were engaged at one point but marriage wasn’t in the cards.
In addition to her children with Wilson, Wilbourn leaves behind four other children ranging from 8 to 22.
Donald Jr., 5, is a mini version of his father. He loves helping and he’s a good brother to his sisters. Poetry, 4, is fearless and loves to explore. Wilson said she reminds him a lot of her mother.
“She's so spontaneous and vibrant,” he said. “She’s just full of life.”
And then there’s his youngest, 1-year-old Honesty. She’s “daddy’s girl,” he said. She runs the house and he calls her “the boss.”
Breaking the news to his kids that their mother isn’t coming home was tough but the help people have offered him is lifting his spirits.
“This is like a breath of fresh air,” Wilson said.
TikToker is moved by donations, kindness the public has shown the family
McConnell said he can't believe the impact his videos have had. Not only have people donated money, but they’ve also bought enough items for the kids that some of it will be saved for their birthdays and other future celebrations.
He considers Wilson a brother now, but it wasn’t always that way. The duplex residents initially only saw each other in passing.
While checking in on his neighbor, McConnell found out about the childrens’ mother passing away. Wilson said he was fine but McConnell could tell he needed help.
The children being there has been an adjustment for everyone, it seems. What was once a silent apartment above his own now has tiny footsteps running back and forth.
“Now, I look forward to those little footsteps running back and forth,” McConnell told USA TODAY on Friday. “If I don't hear it, I’m more worried than I am when I do hear it.”
‘He manned up big time’
Although droves of people have flocked to the comments to support the Wilson family, not everyone has been so kind. One social media user even put Wilson down.
“Women have been raising children by themselves forever, without social media I might add,” the comment read. “Man up.”
McConnell was initially going to ignore the invalidating remark but then decided to address it in a follow-up video.
He said it was his idea to help the family. Wilson didn’t ask for help, he said. He added that he wanted to use social media to uplift the Wilsons in part because he lost his own mom 15 years ago to multiple sclerosis.
“To say man up is totally just uncalled for because he manned up big time,” he said. “He’s doing it while these little ones are asking ‘Why doesn’t mommy want to see me anymore?’ Where has mommy been?’”
Regarding the naysayers, he said people tend to project their own trauma onto situations, especially online. What’s important, he said, is that these kids are missing their mother and need cheering up.
“They won’t have her to kiss boo boos,” he said. “Or when the girls become teenagers to talk about boys or makeup or anything like that. He’s doing these little girls’ hair and he’s doing his best to keep her memory alive.”
To help the Wilsons, visit www.beacons.ai/colindetroit.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donations pour in for 3 Detroit kids whose mother died