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December 08. 2013 9:24PM

Boys' needs come first for struggling family of four

MANCHESTER — With a 16-year-old son diagnosed with autism and a 10-year-old who doctors believe may have the same disorder, Maria devotes much of her days to caring for her children, especially the older boy.

"He basically has to be constantly monitored since he has unpredictable behavior and functions only at a 7-year-old level," Maria said. "I don't work. I have to be home for him, and my husband supports the family."

The troubled times make gifts for the children impossible this Christmas without help from the New Hampshire Union Leader Santa Fund for the Salvation Army.

Functioning as a one-income family has been more difficult since Maria, her husband, Walter, and their two children returned to New Hampshire from the South a year ago. Lack of services for the young boy and the need for help from family members to care for her children prompted the decision.

Walter found a difficult economic climate as he sought work in the medical field. A medical laboratory employee, Walter finds that his working hours are frequently reduced by his employer. As a result, the family struggles to survive on Maria's income — federal Supplemental Security Income for the children and a food stamp allotment, which was recently reduced.

Maria is worried about the coming winter.

"Every week we say. 'What are we paying this week with whatever you made?'" Maria said. "We have to postpone payments or pay the bare minimums on utilities,"

Their younger son is doing better since the family moved back to New Hampshire. He has taken up writing as a hobby and has written three science fiction screenplays.

Maria hopes to have books for the 10-year-old this Christmas.

"I think it's important for him to have the traditional type of book so he can read and concentrate on it without being distracted," Maria said.

The older boy, who at 16 struggles to function at a seventh-grade level, would do well with items that stimulate his visual awareness.

"Anything we can do, we do for the boys," she said.

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 financially 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 8 a.m. to 5 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.

Call Shannon Sullivan at 206-7833 for more information.

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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