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Hand up helped save Christmas for local family

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | August 2, 2020 1:20 AM

As part of the Press Christmas for All campaign in 2019, we shared with readers stories of people applying for help.

Throughout 2020, The Press will follow up on some of those stories and see how donors’ generosity has made a difference in people’s lives.

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More than 2.5 million grandparents are responsible for grandchildren who live with them, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Post Falls residents Linda and Mike Stolley are two of them.

“It’s different becoming a parent to a grandchild,” Linda said. “It has unique challenges.”

The couple has six adult children and eight grandchildren, five of whom live in their home.

Eleven years ago, their second-oldest grandchild was born. He came directly from the hospital to his grandparents’ home.

Since then, four more grandchildren have joined the household.

“This is where it gets complicated,” Linda said.

Their adult son has four children with three different women, one of whom is disabled. He lives with his parents, along with his kids and girlfriend, the mother of two of the children. The other biological moms have problems that prevent them from caring for their kids.

Linda and Mike also care for their oldest son, who is disabled. Damage from surgery for a brain tumor left him with limited vision and fragile health.

Though Linda and Mike both work, money is tight. Their situation worsened when Mike needed an emergency root canal and crown late last year. Right on the heels of the procedure, another crown broke and had to be replaced.

Though he has dental insurance, Mike needed to pay almost $500 out of pocket — a major strain on the family’s finances.

That’s where Press Christmas for All came in.

The family was referred to Christmas for All through Relatives as Parents, a nonprofit based in Post Falls that offers support and resources for Idaho children who are being raised by relatives. Most of the relatives they serve are grandparents raising grandchildren.

Even before she and her husband began taking care of their second-oldest grandson, Linda was familiar with Relatives as Parents through her work.

“When my grandson was born and came to live with us, it became really personal,” she said.

At first, Linda said, she and Mike were hesitant to accept help from Christmas for All, not wanting to take resources from another family who needed help. But in the end, they accepted the hand up.

Christmas for All funds donated by the community paid for Mike’s second crown. Not having to worry about that bill was a weight off the family’s shoulders.

“It happened right at the holidays,” she said. “It was a big help.”

All told, Mike and Linda have taken on more responsibility than many grandparents would be willing to bear. Linda said she’s been asked why she doesn’t simply let her grown kids figure things out for themselves.

“If it were just the adult children, tough love would be appropriate,” she said. “But it’s not just the adult children. It’s the little ones.”

The adults in the household work together to keep things running.

“We tag team,” Linda said. “I take mornings. They take afternoons and evenings. We share the responsibilities.”

Still, it’s a lot of pressure. Even the kids sometimes notice the strain their grandparents are under.

Linda recalled her grandson saying to her recently, with the kind of uncanny clarity that children often possess, “Grandma, you work real hard and I appreciate it. But you work too hard for someone your age.”

It’s not exactly how Linda pictured this stage of her life. But if she’s learned anything, it’s that life is full of surprises. Sometimes it’s necessary to adjust expectations.

“Life is messy,” she said. “The idea of a perfect family and everything going just right is not going to happen. But it’s better than turning our backs on it.”

In her travels throughout the country, Linda said she’s never seen a community quite like the one here at home — one where people routinely step up to help their neighbors.

“I’m so glad we live in Kootenai County,” she said. “I’m so glad that we have the wonderful community that we do, and I think Christmas for All is a reflection of that giving spirit.”

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Press Christmas for All is managed by The Hagadone Corp., with great assistance from CharityReimagined.Org. It is a legally recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit, run entirely by volunteers.