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Q: My abusive ex-partner left me broke. He controlled all the money in our relationship and drove us into debt. I didn’t work because he didn’t want me to, but since leaving, I’ve found a job. It barely pays the bills. I have two young children and I’m not sure how I’m going to afford Christmas this year. Do you know any agencies that help moms afford gifts for kids? I know the most important thing is we’re safe now, but I still want to give them a better Christmas than we’ve had in the past when he was around.
A: I’m sure many protective, survivor moms share this sentiment around this time of year. The holidays can be expensive. But I’m so glad to know you’re away from that abusive partner. In my opinion, the best gift you can give your kids is to show them that they’re safe and loved. Of course, they might disagree and say it's LEGOs, so I get it. As a mom of two myself, I know how amazing it feels to see kids’ eyes light up on Christmas morning when they see gifts magically appear under the tree from Santa. They don’t realize Santa’s budget may be a little tight depending on the circumstances.
Financial abuse is a tactic that almost 100 percent of survivors of domestic violence encounter. It’s extremely common and unfortunate that a partner who uses power and control over a survivor also extends that control to money. Abusers often forbid partners from having a job outside the home (they don’t want you to be financially independent from them), or have access to shared money. They might give survivors a small allowance to only buy necessities. They often track every penny a survivor spends and threaten harm if they suspect the survivor’s spending without an abuser’s approval. At the same time, they can then open lines of credit without the survivor’s knowledge, run up debts, not pay those debts, and ruin a survivor’s credit, making it even more difficult for a survivor to start over after abuse.
If you haven’t yet, consider creating a family budget to see where your money is going and how much you can start saving, not just for the holidays, but for any emergency expense that might pop up. It’s not hard to make a budget and it’ll really help you to see the whole picture of your finances when you start to track your income and expenses.
You may want also want to explore a tool called The Compensation Compass from the nonprofit FreeFrom. This tool helps survivors quickly determine what compensation they may be entitled to in their state as a victim of domestic violence.
Luckily, there are agencies out there, as well as caring individuals, who want to help make holiday wishes come to life. Before we get to that list though, I want to share what some survivors told me about their holiday traditions after leaving an abuser. You’re not alone.
“Homemade gifts! We are now five years out and are more financially stable, but we still prefer homemade gifts. My kids adapted in such a cool way. Last year my nine-year-old made an amazing painting for his brother and used old wood and bakeable clay to make me a chess board.”
“My first year out, I had nothing and no one. I had three preteens/teenagers, who outgrew Toys For Tots (great resource for younger kids!), so I talked to the lady who ran our local food bank and she knew of a few families looking to adopt-a-family for the holiday. They got my kids and me clothing, games, toys, school supplies, Christmas decorations, a tree and a Christmas dinner. We wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without their kindness. Since then, I shop thrift stores during the year and save things I know they will like. At some thrift stores you can find very affordable new items like skin care and hair care, and I get those for stocking stuffers.”
“We do a used book exchange. Everyone brings a book they have loved reading during the year and makes a pitch. Anyone who wants it claims it. Keeps us all reading and is low cost.”
“I lived on $216 a month after I went into hiding but we had food and a warm place to live. Feeling safe was important. We made Christmas gifts for each other. I realized on Christmas afternoon that first year we were free that the things we were doing were the way I wanted to keep celebrating the holidays and we still do this 42 years later.”
Below are a list of programs you may want to consider applying to for help this holiday season. Just a tip: Apply early! Many are accepting applications now and fill up quickly.
The Marine’s Toys for Tots program distributes collected toys for children in need. Find out how to sign up online.
The Salvation Army Angel Tree Charity offers free gifts for kids via those gift tag trees you see in shopping centers. To sign up to receive a gift, it’s recommended you call your local Salvation Army—enter your ZIP code in the box at the top of their landing page.
Catholic Charities programs across the U.S. offer various Christmas charities. Find the location nearest you on their website and give them a call for more information.
Your local food bank may have received donations of gifts for the holidays to distribute to the community. If anything else, utilizing your local food bank for groceries can help your budget stretch further to afford the holidays.
My Operation Homefront provides support for military families throughout the year, including the holidays. Create an account on their website for more information.
United Way is another nonprofit with chapters around the country, offering support for individuals and families in need during the holidays and throughout the year. Find your local chapter on their website and give them a call.
USPS Operation Santa allows individuals to write letters to Santa asking for a holiday wish to be fulfilled. Generous readers from all over can choose a letter that resonates with them and “adopt” the wish they want to fulfill. Keep in mind that the last call for letters is Dec. 11.
Santa’s Little Helpers is a Reddit page where members purchase gifts for those in need. To apply, create a Reddit account and an Amazon Wish List of items totaling less than $100 and, once approved to join, create a post about your holiday needs.
ModestNeeds.org provides short-term financial assistance often to those families who live just above the poverty line and are ineligible for other social assistance programs.
The Buy Nothing Project allows participants to give away items for free that they no longer need. It may be a great way to find some gently used toys or other items for gifts.
Wishing you a safe, warm, happy and violence-free holiday!
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