At Renee Jackson's home, the Christmas spirit abounds, even if the finances do not.
Ms. Jackson, 56, of Pittsburgh, is helping to raise two young granddaughters and four great-nephews.
The Christmas season -- as are most days when one is doing a repeat round of child rearing -- can be tough on the finances, psyche "and the legs," Ms. Jackson said.
But here's where her indomitable spirit -- helped by Toys for Tots and the Post-Gazette's Goodfellows Fund -- helps shoulder the load.
The blended family will get an early visit from Santa -- at least his spirit of giving -- during an upcoming Toys for Tots event to be held at a social club on Frankstown Avenue in Homewood. Ms. Jackson's crew will be among several dozen families who share in an offering of toys and treats, which includes a backpack and school supply distribution, to give needy families a hand this holiday season.
The younger Jackson nephews, Ka-Shaun, 16, Raymond, 12, Ra-Sean, 8, are mostly into DVDs, video games and books when it comes to Christmas wishes.
A fourth great-nephew, Clayton Jackson, 22, is studying computer science at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His great-aunt has had a hand in raising him since he was 13.
"They are not picky. They are gracious," Ms. Jackson said. She expects the younger boys will be circumspect when it comes to picking from the new, age-appropriate and often high-tech toys made available by this traditional program of the Marine Corps Reserve.
Granddaughters Taylor Moore, 9, and Jordan Moore, 10, don't mind a Hello Kitty brand sweater, handbag or any kind of such trendy clothes and monogrammed paraphernalia now and then, Ms. Jackson said.
"Even so, the girls are as just as gracious, and just as athletic as the boys," their proud grandmother was quick to add.
It is "sports, sports and more sports" that makes this family rich in those things money can't buy, family friend and baseball coach David Reese said.
"Renee is amazing when it comes to helping out with those kids," said Mr. Reese, who has known her since they were fourth-grade classmates in the Wilkinsburg School District.
"She is loving, giving and tirelessly makes sure those kids get to all their sports practices," he said. "She is the driving force behind their athletic drive."
Mr. Reese, longtime officer and coach with the Wilkinsburg Baseball Association, mentors his friend's young relatives.
Ka-Shaun plays shortstop; Raymond, pitcher; and Ra-Sean, first base. The girls also play; Jordan plays outfield while Taylor rotates among all positions.
"Renee and the kids deserve some holiday cheer," Mr. Reese said. "They really work hard at sports and trying to succeed in life,''
The children are students in the Woodland Hills School District and several of the boys play football for their schools and for a neighborhood recreation league.
"Let me tell you that the girls would love to play football, too,'' their grandmother said.
Despite her age and a back injury that forced her into early retirement from her job with the Liquor Control Board, Ms. Jackson remains adamant that her grandchildren and great-nephews are raised "by family."
"At my age it can be tiring ... but the good news is that all the running around I do for them keeps me thin," she said with a chuckle.
Ms. Jackson noted that she used to volunteer for the Toys for Tots program.
"This year I turn to it for a little help," she said. "But then, everybody needs a little help at some time in their lives."
The decorations are not up yet at the family's modest home, but cheer and humor abound when Ms. Jackson talks about the Christmas countdown.
"There will be those early presents from Santa. We'll trim the tree this week even though with a fixed income, can't afford a lot of fancy decorations," she said.
The family is especially hoping that Santa "and the good Lord" grants the gift of good health for the girls' mother, Chanel Montgomery, who has been in and out of the hospital in recent weeks.
The combined family will attend Christmas Day services at Calvary Baptist Church in the Hill District and Mount Ararat in East Liberty and then will sit down to what Ms. Jackson called an "unconventional holiday dinner" of ribs and the trimmings of family togetherness.
"We surely have the Christmas spirit ... just need a little help with the extras this time around," she said.
Your donations to the Goodfellows Fund will be used to buy presents for families such as the extended Jackson family. Donations are tax-deductible, and each one is acknowledged in the newspaper.
To make a contribution, use the coupon on this page or visit www.post-gazette.com/goodfellows
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