OAKLAND -- Rose Matthew came to America from Nigeria with a dream of becoming a nurse and providing a better life for her children.
Like many immigrants, Matthew, 32, has worked hard trying to keep a roof over her family's heads while also taking college courses in hopes of securing a nursing degree.
Yet, the hard work barely covers the monthly bills and, with her husband unemployed, Christmas gifts for her three children was a luxury her family could not afford.
"I have no money, I can't afford it," Matthew said of buying gifts for her children. "When I told them there would be no gifts, they just started crying."
But those tears of sorrow turned to tears of joy after Matthew learned of the Salvation Army's yearly Christmas food and gift basket program that provides food and presents to thousands of struggling Alameda County families each year.
"I couldn't believe they would do that much," Matthew said of the program. "Without them, I don't know where I would be right now."
This year, the Salvation Army plans to provide Christmas baskets to more than 2,000 families who are struggling to pay their bills in a down economy.
It's one of the organization's most popular programs and one that brings smiles not only to needy families but those that volunteer and work at the Salvation Army.
"People are in crisis and this is part of our mission, to reach out to those in need in our community," said Capt. Kim Williams, associate county coordinator for the Salvation Army's East Bay chapter. "For a few minutes one day, these families don't have to think about their sorrow."
For Matthew, who came to the United States in 2006, the Salvation Army's program has been a savior for the last two years.
With her husband unable to find a job, Matthew said she has worked part-time as a certified nursing assistant while also taking classes at Merritt College in hopes of receiving enough credits to be accepted into a nursing school.
After paying for rent, utilities, clothing and food, Matthew said other purchases are just not possible.
When holiday advertisements began appearing on television and decorations were put up around the city, Matthew said the children began to ask about presents.
She had to tell Blessing, 5, John, 4, and Karen, 3, that nothing was going to be given because the family didn't have enough cash.
"I just told them that we should pray for gifts," Matthew said.
In addition to gifts for children, the Salvation Army provides each qualifying family with a turkey and a basket of food staples including stuffing mix, potatoes, butter and rolls.
Much of the food is either donated or purchased with monetary donations that the Salvation Army collects during the year.
Williams, who is reviewing applications for the program, said she is shocked at how some families are surviving despite their modest means. She said she has seen applications in which families are earning as little as $900 a month before expenses.
Matthew said the program not only helps children but relieves stress for parents worried about not being able to provide for their family.
"We need it for the kids -- it makes them happy," Matthew said. "But it also makes the parents happy."
The Share the Spirit campaign, sponsored by this newspaper, benefits nonprofit agencies in Alameda and Contra Costa counties. To help, clip the coupon accompanying this story or go to https://volunteer.truist.com/vccc/donate. Readers with questions and corporations interested in making large contributions may contact the Volunteer Center of the East Bay, which administers the fund, at 925-472-5760.