St. Johns family cant afford to celebrate Christmas this year
Well wishes and donations have come flooding in to The Telegram for the Wickham family following the publication of "Bleak House" in Tuesday's print edition. It's beginning to look like the generosity of others might help this family make Christmas happen after all.
Here is Tuesday's story and watch for updates on the family in coming days.
"Excuse the mess in the house, but I'm beyond caring anymore." Charlie Wickham has little hope left. He's lost it in himself and the world outside the blinds.
But he still believes in Santa Claus.
From their rented home in Buckmaster's Circle, Charlie and his wife Marg sit sunken into their seats, down and out.
Money is their trouble. They barely have what it takes to get by, and with Christmas in the air they don't know how they'll pull it together in time.
"Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" is playing so low through the television speakers you can barely hear it. The toys and books and clothes strewn around the living room make the few decorations on the wall nearly impossible to perceive.
Married 31 years ago, they are spending a quiet Sunday with their daughter Natasha, her two young children, and their son Noel and his infant daughter. The two live with their parents and share in their struggle.
"The money just isn't there," Marg says.
Charlie gets $1,000 every two weeks from employment insurance.
"We've got to pay 90 per cent of our own drugs. Our drugs together are over $3,000, so by the time rent and light bill and phone bill is paid, there's about 40 bucks left," Marg explains.
Natasha helps out with the groceries. At 22, she's a single mom.
"Thank God for the food bank," she says. "And if the Single Parent Association wasn't there, I don't know where I'd be."
Things turned downward fast last February when Charlie was laid off from his position as a supervisor at Evergreen Recycling.
"Me and the boss had a falling out, and two weeks later I was handed me slip," he says.
At the time, Charlie says, provincial income support was paying their rent and all their drug costs. And he was making $1,700 a month. Now he's making too much money on EI to be eligible for social assistance, so they're stuck with much less.
He's looking for a job, but the 54-year-old is limited in what he can do. He hasn't been able to work hard labour since he suffered a heart attack in 2001.
Marg, 51, had a heart attack too, years ago, as well as numerous mini-strokes. She says she's no longer able to work at all. They're sure things can't get any more desperate.
"I'm a very depressed person right now," Charlie says, dark circles evident under eyes wet with tears.
"I don't know where my mood will swing next. One minute I'll be talking and carrying on, and two minutes later I'll be crying. Suicide has crossed my mind numerous times in the past two weeks, but then I realize that I've got my grandchildren."
They expect the lights and phone to be cut off before long. They just haven't been able to keep up with the bills.
"We pay on this so much, we pay on that so much and end up getting behind on everything," Natasha says.
Some years they've done without, but the family has always managed to make Christmas happen.
"There's always a Santa Claus that arrives," Marg says. "This year I think he's on vacation."
They say they feel like nailing a sign on the door that reads, "Christmas is cancelled at this house."
They just don't see any light beyond the black clouds anymore.
Charlie says he can only hope to find a job in the new year, but in the meantime he's offering himself up to do small carpentry jobs to make ends meet. They need a helping hand, but they're more than willing to work for it.
It's tradition for the family to put the tree up on Dec. 20. They bake a bunch of cookies on Dec. 23, and on Christmas Eve they usually order a pizza with pennies they've saved throughout the year.
Christmas morning they have a big breakfast and open gifts once the table is cleared and dishes are washed.
"I'm sure I'm not the first person to be down and out," Charlie said.
"No, Dad, there's lots of people like that," Noel replies.
"And I'm sure one day one of us will be in a position to help somebody else," Natasha adds.