Watching the “glow in their faces” fade as she tells her six children that their Christmas wishes might not come true brings Cassandra, a single mother, nearly to tears.
“When you say ‘no’ to something or ‘I can’t afford it right now,’ you can see that glow in their faces go away,” Cassandra said during a recent interview, her voice quivering with emotion. “It’s ‘Oh my God, what do I do, how do I do this?’ I feel like such a failure — like I’ve failed something for the day.”
Cassandra, whose four boys and two girls range in age from 11 months to 14 years, said her financial difficulties are compounded by the medical issues faced by her 3-year-old son, who requires a feeding tube to get his nutrition.
“He’s developmentally delayed because of it,” said Cassandra, adding her son requires individual therapies. “How do I do this, how do I do that? It’s something I deal with every day. Being a single mom of six I don’t have much time to individually work with him so I have to get outside agencies to come in and help me to get him the care he needs that I can’t give him as his mom. That helps so much.”
Cassandra, 33, who lives in the Pottstown area, receives support from Early Headstart programs, Montgomery County Children and Youth Services and the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit. Cassandra said she’s grateful for the social workers who assist her family.
“I don’t have family around. I have nobody,” said Cassandra, adding the fathers of the children provide no or limited support. “When my mom was still alive, she helped out where she could.
“But since I have no family around and really no friends because I’m home all the time with the kids I really am doing everything by myself. Trying to stretch out your attention to everybody, it’s almost impossible. I get asked all the time ‘How do you do it?’ I don’t even know, just surviving at this point,” Cassandra said.
Cassandra, who is unemployed and relies on federal assistance to get by, said after the bills and car payments are satisfied there isn’t much money to spend on luxuries or Christmas gifts.
“It makes it very hard to get the kids what they want. I tell them I don’t have money for it and then I feel so guilty because as a parent you’re supposed to make your kids happy,” Cassandra said.
Cassandra tells her youngest children stories about Santa Claus “to try to keep that spirit there.”
Her greatest joy, Cassandra said, is that she and her children will be together for the holidays and that her family can remain intact with the help of social services, despite their difficulties.
“I want us to remain together. That’s my wish,” Cassandra said.
Despite her family’s numerous difficulties, Cassandra considers her family blessed with help that comes from the generosity of those who work for the social service agencies that help her and for programs like Operation Holiday.
“I appreciate it so much,” Cassandra said.
Operation Holiday helps families like Cassandra’s every year.
Now in its 31st year, Operation Holiday has provided a brighter holiday season to thousands of families with children. More than $70,000 in donations from readers last year allowed the program to provide food and gifts for more than 200 children in need and give additional donations in January to 10 area food pantries in Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties.
The mission of Operation Holiday is to ensure that children in local communities have food to eat and gifts to open, no matter how poor or difficult their family situation may be.
This year, Operation Holiday has partnered with 19 agencies in the tri-county area. Agencies have referred 144 families with 375 children.
There is no overhead with Operation Holiday and all funds stay local. Funds are collected and audited in a nonprofit foundation account managed by the staff of MediaNews Group.
Gift cards to area grocery stores are provided to each family for food so that they can purchase the fixings for a holiday dinner as well as staples for the pantry. Weis Markets is a partner with Operation Holiday and has assisted with food purchases and gift cards.
Additional gift cards for every child in the program 16 years of age or younger are purchased through Boscov’s and distributed in partnership with the referring agencies.
Operation Holiday does not accept families who have not been referred by an agency.
Operation Holiday is funded solely by readers’ contributions. All contributions are tax-deductible. Online donations are being accepted in a secure portal in partnership with TriCounty Community Network. Visit https://tcnetwork.org/ and click on the link for Operation Holiday.
Contributions can be mailed with checks payable to Operation Holiday to PO Box 1181, Pottstown PA 19464; The Reporter, 307 Derstine Ave., Lansdale PA 19446; Operation Holiday, 1440 Lacrosse Ave., Reading, PA 19607.
The names of all contributors are published in the participating newspapers as donations are received. Please note whether a contribution should be designated as anonymous or given in tribute or in memory of someone.
Operation Holiday: Single mom of 6 struggles to provide for children at holidays – The Mercury