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After a Nextdoor post, D.C. neighbors bring Christmas to mom, daughter

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After putting away the dishes, Kim Wright finally sat down to write the thing she’d been composing in her head all day.

“I had to tell myself: ‘Come on Kim, this is for her. It’s for Mykia. It’s not about your pride,’” said Wright, a 42-year-old college student and single mother who was ready to admit that she wasn’t going to make it this year, just a couple weeks before Christmas.

“It’s her birthday, then Christmas and the bills were piling up,” she said. “I waited too long to ask for help.”

Most of the popular charity toy programs — Toys for Tots, Operation Santa, Angel Tree — start and end their registration in the fall. They’re for the perpetually poor, the folks who already know in October that December is going to be rough.

But Wright is somewhere in the middle.

She works, saves, makes small donations to charities like the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at the hospital and pinches here and there to make ends meet. “I live in a house. I have a car note. I have insurance payments,” she said. “The dollar store saves me.”

She is like 63 percent of Americans surveyed this year by LendingClub who are living paycheck-to-paycheck — even six-figure households. And assistance programs are primarily reserved for those who’re already at their bottoms, not the ones sliding downward.

Squarely, comfortably in the middle for the past seven years, Wright watched her secure job as a medical records specialist in a D.C. hospital derail when she joined the small percentage of people who were adversely affected by the coronavirus vaccine. She couldn’t take the booster shots required to keep working at the hospital, so she began looking for work elsewhere.

It took longer than she had hoped, and she stretched herself a little too thin by continuing her classes at Trinity Washington University — she’s so close to that bachelor’s degree. “Business administration, and I want to work in human resources,” she said, to build on her experience with medical records.

By the start of December, it became clear that she was in trouble. Her older children — grown and nearly grown — would understand. But it was painful to look at the wish lists of her daughter’s 9th birthday and Christmas, two days later. (I feel her pain; those of us whose poor family planning gave us precious, December babies face a month of financial ruin, every year.)

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And so Wright found herself opening up Nextdoor — the neighborhood chat group where folks usually post photos of lost cats, bicker over dog poop, gentrification, loud kids, snipe over lawn decor and landscape upkeep and exchange contact information for reliable plumbers. There are digital panhandlers asking folks to send money to their cash apps. Or folks simply looking for used appliances or discarded furniture, a reverse Craig’s List.

But lately, more and more posts have been from people asking for help in varying degrees of necessity and humility.

She stared at her screen, trying to summon the right words for her situation. Social media is where people go to post their shiny highlight reels, brag about their kids, share pictures from vacation — always smiling. Now Wright was about to do the opposite — to be honest. To tell the truth about her struggles.

“I didn’t want to feel like, like,” Wright said, grasping for the right word. “A failure. I worried that if I asked for help, I was admitting failure. I was up late at night, stressing myself out. It took me 48 hours before I posted it.”

“I am looking for an organization or anyone that can help with last-minute birthday and Christmas gifts for my soon-to-be 9-year-old girl Mykia,” she wrote to her neighbors in Benning, explaining that she’s a single mom struggling. “I feel ashamed to even ask here but I need a little help until one of the jobs I applied to comes through for me.”

Scores of people responded.

Some offered the names and links to all the charities Wright had already tried. Others suggested places to get used coats and food. And many, many others related.

‘Hi Kim, grrl I understand boy do I understand,” wrote a mom who also struggled when her kids were young.

And then a neighbor who understood the issue asked a simple question: “Kim, do you have a wish list on Amazon?”

She didn’t. But she quickly made one: Mermaid Barbie, Hello Kitty backpack, Connect Four, and so on.

And within a couple days, the packages began arriving.

“I cried when every box came,” she said. Neighbors sent clothes, birthday decorations and someone even dropped off a very nice, used karaoke machine.

Some folks told her to suck it up — every kid needs a lean Christmas to build character, to appreciate a family’s struggle. But Wright is stubborn about making Christmas big — too big — every year. It wasn’t until our third interview that she finally explained why.

“My mom was killed on Christmas Day when I was six,” she told me.

Her youngest brother’s father killed her mom, Tijuana Coates, in front of little Kim Wright. Then he killed himself.

“I am at peace with it now,” she said.

The strangers who sent Wright presents had no idea how important their generosity really was.

The bonus? Job leads came too. It’s Washington, after all. Of course an expert record wrangler would be in demand. Wright has interviews lined up.

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“Lately, there’s been so much hate online. It’s like nobody chooses love anymore,” she said. “But then this happened and Christmas angels also sent her names and contacts. And I found out I have all these great neighbors.”

She’s keeping a list of all the Santas who helped.

“After I get a new job, when I’m back on my feet, I want to have a big dinner,” she said. “I want to invite everyone and tell them ‘thank you.’”

In a city where porchfront conversations are dwindling, in a digital space where humans often wallow in pettiness, Wright found love, generosity and a whole group of new friends. Because she was honest.

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