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November 30. 2012 1:14AM

Dad turned life around, but struggles remain, especially in Christmas season for the kids


MANCHESTER - In high school, "Albert" made a lot of bad choices. He started using drugs and hung out with people who made his problems worse.

He dropped out of high school and seemed to be going nowhere.

Then the first of his two daughters was born.

"The kids were a big life-changer for me," he said.

Albert is now clean and sober. He obtained his general equivalency diploma and is now a full-time student at Manchester Community College, where he's working toward a degree in construction technology and a career in property management or building inspection.

"They're the only things that matter to me, so I went back to school to give them a better life," he said of his girls, who want a Christmas that he said he just can't provide.

Albert has applied to the New Hampshire Union Leader Santa Fund for the Salvation Army, hoping the charity will give his daughters something nice to cheer up their Christmas.

His kids want what a lot of kids want for Christmas. The 10-year-old wants a mountain bike. The 4-year-old wants the LeapPad touch-screen learning game.

While he's in school, only his girlfriend's modest part-time work serves as steady income for the family of four. His application to the Santa Fund lists $800 in monthly income and more than $2,200 in monthly expenses for rent, utilities and food.

He tries to help by working temporary or part-time jobs to bring in extra money, but it won't be enough until he can finish school and find full-time work, he said.

"We're really tight on money," he said. "We go from shut-off notice to shut-off notice. We'll let some things go one month to pay other things."

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The generosity of Santa Fund donors makes it possible for the holidays to still be a joyful time. The Santa Fund makes food, clothing and gifts available during the holiday season, so ?nancially stressed families can put their resources toward paying bills for basic needs.

Santa Fund donations may be made by sending a check to the Union Leader Santa Fund, in care of the New Hampshire Union Leader, P.O. Box 9555, Manchester 03108; or by placing a donation in the Santa Fund box in the lobby of the newspaper, at 100 William Loeb Drive, Manchester, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Donations can also be made online at www.unionleader.com/santafund.

Every effort is made to promptly publish Santa Fund contributions. Donors who wish to see their contributions listed before Christmas are encouraged to submit them as soon as possible. The Union Leader publishes photos of donors of $1,000 or more.

For more information, call Christy Detrude at 668-4321, ext. 507.

How to donate

Santa Fund donations can be made by completing the online form by clicking "Donate" below or send a check to:

c/o New Hampshire Union Leader
P.O. Box 9555
Manchester, NH 03108

You can also drop off the printed form in our newspaper and a donation in the Santa Fund box at the Union Leader, 100 William Loeb Drive in Manchester from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. We will also have a donation drop box at the Intown Manchester Holiday Market on Thursday, November 29 and every Thursday in December.

Share a holiday greeting

With your donation, the Union Leader will publish a short holiday message in the newspaper. Just write it up exactly as you would have it appear, printing clearly, and mail it along with your donation. If you prefer to donate online, follow the link on the page following the transaction to submit a Christmas message.

For more information, please contact Shannon Sullivan, Union Leader Community Relations Manager, at (603) 206-7833 or ssullivan@unionleader.com

The Union Leader Santa Fund is a community tradition that has supported the Salvation Army for more than 50 years. The Santa Fund was first established at the Post Office Fruit in Manchester after a chance 1959 meeting between the Salvation Army major and the then-editor of the Union Leader.

In its first year, the Santa Fund brought in $1,000 to support the Salvation Armys Christmas effort. Since then, the Santa Fund has raised nearly $6.8 million, thanks to the generosity of the community and local businesses. Santa Fund dollars continue to provide warm clothing, meals and toys during the holidays, as well as support Kids Caf, summer camps and other critical programs throughout the year. Last year's drive brought in over $240,000 thanks to the generosity of local businesses and residents, bringing the lifetime total to nearly $6.8 million.

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