The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY CRISTINA BOLLING [email protected]­lot­teob­

It’s been a year of ups and downs for Keianna Sims and her sons. Donors are step­ping up to help the fam­ily.

Keianna Sims can’t con­tain her ex­cite­ment when she talks about her kids: 3-year-old Kody, who lights up the room when he walks into his Head Start class, and 5-mon­thold Kai­son, whom she calls her “con­ver­sa­tion piece” be­cause of how he charms strangers ev­ery­where he goes.

But this year has been a chal­leng­ing one for Sims and her boys.

Keianna Sims re­cently sep­a­rated from Kody and Kai­son’s dad, and she and the boys are now stay­ing with Keianna’s fam­ily while she searches for a job and a place of their own. There are seven peo­ple and a dog liv­ing in the three-bed­room, twobath home in west Char­lotte, so Keianna sleeps in the liv­ing room.

Now that Kai­son is get­ting older and Keianna Sims feels bet­ter about leav­ing him in day­care, she’s start­ing to ap­ply for the kinds of jobs she’s held in the past, as a pa­tient-care aide or do­ing health screen­ings.

But un­til she lands that job, money is tight. So with Christ­mas com­ing, she ap­plied for the Salva- tion Army’s Christ­mas pro­gram so the boys would have toys un­der the tree on Christ­mas morn­ing.

This year, Kody and Kai­son are among about 7,300 chil­dren who are reg­is­tered to re­ceive toys and clothes through the Sal­va­tion Army’s Christ­mas pro­gram, which matches chil­dren in need with anony­mous donors who buy the gifts. Some 1,400 se­nior cit­i­zens will also re­ceive gifts this Christ­mas.

In cases where donors don’t come for­ward, Char­lotte Ob­server read­ers cover the ex­pense by giv­ing to the Empty Stock­ing Fund. Money raised by last year’s Empty Stock­ing Fund al­lowed the Sal­va­tion Army to pur­chase 6,056 toys and 456 gifts for low-in­come se­niors.

Each child will also re­ceive a new back­pack this year, so Empty Stock­ing funds were used to pur­chase 8,000 back­packs and 20,000 small items to stuff in them.

Chil­dren in the pro­gram range in age from in­fants to 12 years old.

Keianna says she’s grate­ful that donors are spend­ing their time and money to pro­vide Christ­mas gifts for her chil­dren.

“It’s re­ally a bless­ing,” she says.

Kody is ob­sessed with firetrucks. “He will stop any­thing he’s do­ing once he hears those sirens,” his mom says. “When he sees a firetruck, his whole world lights up.”

And al­though he’s just 3, his con­cern for oth­ers takes Keianna Sims’ breath away.

If some­one of­fers him some­thing to eat, he al­ways asks if his mom can have some, too. “He’s al­ways con­cerned about other peo­ple,” she says.

Kai­son, at just 5 months, al­ready knows how to win a room with his laughs and gig­gles, Keianna Sims says. “I thank God for him all the time,” she says.

Keianna says that al­though this year has brought its share of pain, “I can hon­estly say that ev­ery­thing I went through was a bless­ing in dis­guise.”

“I can’t re­ally com­plain be­cause I know there are al­ways peo­ple that are worse off than me,” she says. “I’m re­ally blessed to have the good chil­dren I have.”

Cour­tesy of Keianna Sims

From left, Kai­son and Kody Sims will get toys this Christ­mas thanks to the Sal­va­tion Army’s Christ­mas pro­gram, the Empty Stock­ing Fund.

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