adults, giving them all holiday gifts that have been donated by the community. Even then, Bergel said, it’s not enough.
“It’s our philosophy to not say no,” he said, “so this season is especially difficult because there is so much demand. And we can’t say yes to everyone.”
At Cornerstones, a Northern Virginia nonprofit that provides shelter and support to families in need, the staff fulfilled 1,300 wish lists for children in the Reston and Herndon areas alone. Northern Virginia Family Services, a nonprofit agency based in Oakton, will give about 2,100 children gifts through a dona- tion program.
Nationally, more than one in three children are growing up in low-income working families, according to data from the Working Poor Families Project. In the Washington region, which has some of the highest-income counties in the nation, more than one in four children fall into that category.
Bergel said the needs differ from one family to the next, but there seems to be a shared theme to all the requests: “There are a lot of moms looking to provide some joy this holiday season.”
The same could be said of the Craigslist listings.
“I am a single mom of three,” begins one in Fairfax, Va.
“I am a stay at home mom of 4 children,” starts another from Montgomery Village in suburban Maryland.
“They say trouble don’t last always,” wrote Juanita Herrin, 34, of Annandale, Va. “I am a divorced mother of 4 battling lupus.”
Herrin said she turned to the site in desperation after getting turned down for help from several nonprofit agencies. She recently started a cleaning service. But she said it’s a struggle to pay bills and keep up the insurance for her business and still provide a special day for her children, ages 6, 11, 13 and 15.
“I don’t want any money from anyone,” Herrin said. “I just want my kids to open up something on Christmas Day.”
Britten’s children were still asleep when she woke up at 4 a.m. and posted her ad on Craigslist. “I had nothing to lose,” she said. “It’s been hell this year. Everything just started crashing under us at one time.”
Britten said she went back to cosmetology school this year because her fiance, Donnell Booker, was earning enough at his construction job to handle their $1,450 monthly rent in Oxon Hill, Md. But then his hours were reduced and the bills piled up. A look at one of his recent paychecks shows that he earns $17 an hour, and on a week when his gross pay totaled $204, after deductions for taxes and child support, his check was for $21.
Britten said this has meant the family has been late on rent and now faces an eviction that could come any day. In the months leading up to Thanksgiving, their water and gas were turned off. To cook, they used an electric skillet, and for water, they ran a hose across the street from a generous neighbor’s house.
“Once one domino fell, they all started falling,” Britten said. “Christmas is just breaking my heart. A lot of people say it is not about the gifts. I know that. I know that as an adult. But as a kid, you don’t want to process that.”
Her 15-year-old son wants new clothes the family can’t afford. Her 13- and 11-yearold have asked for a PlayStation video-game console that is out of her budget. Her 8-year-old son hasn’t requested anything specific, but as he sat in the family’s living room on a recent afternoon, he excitedly recalled what was waiting for him under the tree last year.
“I got books and a bubble gum machine and a puzzle,” Donnell Booker Jr. said.
Then, just as quickly as the second-grader started talking about gifts, he stopped. He knows his family is struggling this year. In the corner of the room, a tree his mother bought for $5 at the Family Dollar store leaned against a wall on a broken stand.
“It’s mainly for getting together with your family,” Donnell said of the holiday.