Transcript Staff Writer

For the past seven years, Christmas has been "just another day" for Rebecca Evey and her kids.

No holiday. No presents.

You won't find her hosting an expensive holiday party and you won't see her spending big bucks on presents.

For Rebecca Evey, Dec. 25 is another day to work; a day to earn some overtime.

But it wasn't always like that.

Years ago, Rebecca loved the holiday season.

But that was before the accident.

Just north, off 12th Street, nestled in between the Cleveland County Health Department and the Oklahoma Youth Center is a small, brown, nondescript building.

The building used to be a juvenile facility.

This year it's home to the Christmas Store.

For the past 39 years the Christmas Store has helped provide holiday presents and food for many Cleveland County residents who otherwise would go without.

It's not a handout.

Instead, the store's clients help set up the store -- they unpack items, stock shelves, clean and do everything needed to build the store from the ground up -- in exchange for a chance to shop.

Once their work is finished, the clients receive a voucher good for gifts and food at the store.

"It's not a handout," says Charles Hollingsworth, chair of the Christmas Store's board of directors. "Our clients earn what they get. They work hard."

The results is a mini-department store filled with rooms of food, household items, blankets, toys and appliances -- the same new stuff a shopper would find at the local Wal-Mart or Target.

But this store is only open for business four days of the year.

Rebecca Evey never expected to be here.

A decade ago, she was newly married with a husband and child. Her life was good.

Money was plentiful and she and her husband, Thomas, had just bought a new home.

In 2002, fate changed everything.

At 1:30 p.m. on March 30 Rebecca and Thomas were returning from a funeral when their vehicle hydroplaned and was struck by a semi tractor-trailer.

Rebecca, Thomas and their daughter, Kellie, were all injured.

Rebecca and Kellie recovered.

Thomas didn't fare as well.

Today, the once successful trim carpenter is bed-ridden in a nursing home, unable to move.

"He lost about 75 percent of his brain function," Rebecca said. "He'll never be the same man he was."

But the accident did more than just take away her husband.

Overnight Rebecca went from wife and mother to single mother with three children, thousands of dollars in medical bills and nowhere to turn.

Her income dropped by two-thirds, and she and children found themselves struggling just to put food on the table.

They were very close to being homeless.

"We lost our house, our vehicles, everything. We lost it all because of the accident," she said. "I had to move back in with my father, and I hadn't lived at home since I was 16."

That struggle continues today.

With her husband's health deteriorating, and her bills mounting, Rebecca -- a nurse's assistant at Norman Regional Hospital -- turned to various agencies and networks for help.

She hasn't had much success.

"Most have turned us away," she said, as huge tears filled the corner of her eyes. "Despite the fact that I have all these huge medical bills, a small disability payment and three children, we can't even qualify for food stamps, I don't understand. Some weeks we can't even afford to put food on the table."

Rebecca did find some help.

She turned to the Christmas Store.

"This place has been kind," she said. "They have really helped us."

Quietly, Rebecca turns and continues filling the shelves in one of the rooms of the store. "It's just been so hard. We lost everything, but slowly we're getting some of it back."

Charles Hollingsworth understands that need.

He also believes that people are more likely to accept help when they feel they've earned it.

Hollingsworth, who's been involved with the Christmas Store for more 20 years, says there is "nothing like" the project.

"You know, we have this process called eligibility. You sit down and you interview a person, and find out just exactly where they are coming from, and just how hard they work, well it just makes you swell up with pride."

The pride, he says, of being able to help those who are desperately trying to help themselves. "It's fulfilling."

On Monday, the real fun starts.

That day, beginning at 9 a.m., the store's clients will come to the store in shifts to begin their shopping. Clients will shop from 9 a.m. to about 8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

And for Hollingsworth and the store's volunteers, shopping is the best part.

"We always let the children pick out a gift for the parents," he said. "They bring a dime and they get to buy a gift."

Sometimes the kids don't even have a dime.

"One little boy brought an acorn," Hollingsworth said. "That was enough."

Rebecca was happy to work her two hours.

The job wasn't difficult, she said, and the reward was great.

"It's a chance to have a Christmas for my kids. They've been through so much and we've had so many doors shut in our faces. But not here, they've really helped."

This year, Rebecca and her family will be one of the 549 Cleveland County families to experience the Christmas Store.

And for her, the store will provide more than just presents and food. It's a chance, she said, to experience the joy behind Christmas.

"Things have been so difficult," she said. "Our lives were turned upside down. But this has helped make things normal. Now, my kids get to enjoy Christmas."

And this year, instead of just another day, Christmas for Rebecca Evey will actually be a celebration.

Recommended for you