It's an energetic morning in the Knight home in Lincoln-Lemington as 7-year-old Eric and 4-year-old Esuan zip in and out of the kitchen and living room, gobbling slices of leftover pizza as their mom, Chaelde, admonishes them not to talk with their mouths full.
At one point, Eric emerges from the kitchen holding out his arm to show a red droplet on the back of his hand. It looks to a visitor like he has cut himself, but mom isn't fooled.
"Kool-Aid," she says, as Eric giggles with delight at having pulled one over on the guest.
It has been a difficult year for the family that included a period of homelessness, and yet Ms. Knight brims with optimism and gratitude. She has "the best job I've ever had," working as a resident care aide at a nursing home, and the house they found this fall "is everything I've ever dreamed of."
"I feel really blessed," she says.
Her landlord, Tamara Allen, a board member at Nahbi Christian Ministries, suggested that Ms. Knight register with the agency for its annual kids' Christmas party, where some 300 children will eat, be entertained, build gingerbread houses, view a presentation on the true meaning of the holiday and leave with a sack of toys.
Ms. Allen also provided a sofa and a rug, and Nahbi has located a stove for Ms. Knight to replace the current one, which has working burners but a nonfunctioning oven. The agency is arranging parental counseling for her.
"To me, this is a young lady who is struggling but has goals and dreams and doesn't give up," said Jacque Fielder, founder of the agency, which provides leadership training, recreation and other services to support families and stem violence.
"I believe that young lady is going to make it," she said. "We like helping people who want to help themselves."
Although she works full time, Ms. Knight said she lives paycheck to paycheck, barely keeping up with the bills and hoping she can scrape together enough to fix her car, which sits broken down at the curbside in front of her home.
The toys being provided by Nahbi are a godsend because there is little or no money for Christmas gifts. Nahbi is one of more than 200 charitable organizations that participate in the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, which is funded in part by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Goodfellows Fund.
Asked what they want to be when they grow up, Esuan says "fireman" and Eric says "superhero," causing his younger brother to change his answer to superhero as well. They're hoping for LEGO blocks, Superman, Batman and Spider-Man toys and, for Esuan, a stuffed zebra.
Ms. Knight said she can't wait for Christmas morning. Thanks to Nahbi and to the thousands of Pittsburghers who volunteer or donate to Toys for Tots, "Santa's going to come and put gifts under the tree," she said.
"Christmas is the best day ever."
To donate to the Goodfellows Fund, use the coupon that accompanies this article, or visit www.post-gazette.com/goodfellows. Every donation will be acknowledged in the newspaper.
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Jon Schmitz: email@example.com or 412-263-1868.