"Resilient" family, mother receive minivan for holiday season
A month ago, Sandra Torres was walking more than an hour to work and struggling to catch up on rent for the run-down trailer where she lives.
Now, she's driving a minivan and will soon be a homeowner.
The single mom and her five children were the subject of a Reindeer Gang story in late November. The annual Telegraph series profiles people in need at Christmas, and readers responded in a big way this holiday season.
Torres and her family moved from Texas to Macon in 2016. When her car broke down in August, she couldn’t afford to have it repaired and had no transportation to get to work across town. So, Torres searched for a new job on foot until she was hired at El Carnaval in mid-November.
Sometimes she found rides to work. Often, though, she walked the 3 miles home in the dark. She was behind on rent from her months of unemployment. Torres and her three daughters were sharing one bed, while her two boys slept in the living room.
Since the story on their plight ran, the family has received an "amazing outpouring of love from the community," said June O'Neal, executive director of the Mentors Project and coordinator of the assistance for the family.
"I feel really blessed. I never in my life thought that would actually happen for me," Torres said. "There are no words to explain how grateful I am. I'm grateful that (community members) have helped out, for everything that they've done, everything that they've given."
Interstate Auto Sales gave Torres a 2007 Kia Sedona minivan Nov. 30. She said the car has made a huge difference, and her children have enjoyed being able to get out of the house and go places.
On Dec. 6, the family moved into a home a few miles away, with a year's rent paid and $1,000 in credit for water, gas and electricity, Torres said. It has three bedrooms, two baths, a back porch, a fenced-in backyard, and a patio.
That home is now being bought for the family for $25,500 with donations, and the closing should happen by the end of the year, said Seth Miller with Miller Realty Group. Torres said she never expected to receive so much support — or become a homeowner.
"My hands are shaking," she said last week. "I just signed the papers to my house. ... It was the best surprise ever.”
The family has also received new furniture, linens, dishes and pictures, as well as some used items, O'Neal said. People donated two sets of bunk beds; a special mattress for daughter Ximena, who suffers from congenital scoliosis; a Christmas tree; and jackets, shoes and clothes, Torres said.
"I hope that it will enable them to be self-sufficient," O'Neal said. "I would like to say to The Telegraph readers and Middle Georgia community that we are amazed, humbled, overwhelmed and very appreciative. Every cent donated went to (the family)."
Torres said her "nerves have been calmed" and she feels much better about her family's situation. She is now focusing on saving money so she'll be ready for future expenses.
Jax, Jonah get new beds, swing set
It was an emotional moment for Cheryl Strange when she picked up some of the donations from readers recently that had rolled in during the days leading up to Christmas, said Judy Sexton, with Loaves & Fishes Ministry.
Strange shared with The Telegraph her story about raising her two grandsons, Jax, 2, and 5-year-old Jonah.
Someone donated a bunk bed for the two boys as well as a swing set that Strange had hoped to get for them.
Some money also was donated to Strange that will help with things such as car repairs and day care for the children. Strange also received a basket that had gift cards and candles for her.
Also, someone at Robins Air Force Base contacted Loaves & Fishes to say that a group from the base is collecting clothes for the children, Sexton said.
“We’ve had clothes come in for both boys, had toys come in,” she said. “One mother and her two little boys … chose toys to give to (Jax and Jonah). I thought that was just neat.”
Yolanda Clay gets needed furniture
Yolanda Clay, a 43-year-old stroke survivor and mother of two young children, has the new furniture she needed for her south Macon apartment.
A bedbug infestation ruined her old sofas and beds, but Reindeer Gang donors came through this year.
One person paid for $1,100 worth of furniture and another bought Clay, who lives in Pendleton Homes, a new washer and dryer.
Clay, who has had a dozen or so surgeries, suffers from heart, kidney and asthma problems that have left her unable to work.
Tamika Freeman of Meals on Wheels, the organization that sponsored Clay, said Clay is “so appreciative and thanking everybody.”
Freeman said one donor even paid Clay’s rent for the next year.
Cora Davis' roof doesn't leak now
Cora Davis, the 87-year-old east Macon woman whose roof was leaking and whose kitchen was rotting because of it, received a number of donations.
Rebuilding Macon, the group that is overseeing the repairs at Davis’ house on Kitchens Street, reported that the roof no longer leaks and that next month the place will be painted and new floors, cabinets and counters will be installed.
“We’ve gotten some great donations and people offering to volunteer,” said Debra Rollins, the organization’s executive director. “She’s really enjoyed having everybody there.”
In all, about two dozen individual donations came in for Davis, a retired housekeeper who has lived in her house south of Shurling Drive for nearly nine decades.
Latasha Johnson receives 'amazing' donations
Latasha Johnson, a Macon mom who is dying of breast cancer, received an outpouring of support from Telegraph readers.
“It’s really been amazing,” said Steven DeGeorge of Campus Clubs, the group that oversaw donations to Johnson and her three children.
All that Johnson, 36, had hoped for were a few Christmas gifts and toys for her children.
They got more than they could ever play with.
Her 9-year-old daughter, Carla, wanted a bike. She got three.
Johnson’s 17-year-old son, Raleak, wanted some clothes. He got a shopping spree to Academy Sports.
Raleak had been reluctant to let the anonymous donors, a pair of retired teachers from Houston County, take him shopping.
“No,” Raleak had said. “They need to take care of my sisters and my mom.”
DeGeorge, who recalled the teen’s remarks, said he explained to Raleak, whom he described as “this sweet kid,” that he needed to “let this family bless you.”
So Raleak let them take him shopping, and “he had the time of his life,” DeGeorge said.