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A FAMILY DISCOVERS JOY OF CHRISTMAS MOTHER, GIRLS FIND PEOPLE CARE

This is how Christmas is supposed to be.

Fresh snow blankets the outdoors. Inside, the feeling is warmth.

At one end of the small living room, a dozen presents still sit below a brightly decorated Christmas tree. At the other, 7-year-old Rebecca Pace dances and lip-syncs the words to the song "The Right Stuff" on her "New Kids on the Block" tape. Nearby her 4-year-old sister, Ashley, changes the diaper on her new Cabbage Patch doll.

Their mother, Kathy Pace, sits on a chair in the middle of the room and tries to find the words to express her appreciation to The News Neediest Fund and everyone who has made this the best Christmas for her and her two daughters.

"I've been so choked up all morning," Ms. Pace said. "Before any of this, I felt like I was kind of alone in the world. Now I've learned that people really do care. It's just an overwhelming feeling."

On July 29, fire destroyed almost all the Paces' belongings. Even Ashley's prized Cabbage Patch doll was burned almost beyond recognition.

Ms. Pace said this Christmas season reminds her of the Jimmy Stewart character (George Bailey) in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life."

"He was so down in the dumps, and I was down in the dumps," she said. "All of a sudden, everything turned around."

Perhaps it was the image of a charred children's toy or Ms. Pace's determination to finish her schooling that sparked the overwhelming response to the family's plight:

One woman sent a $100 bill with a note advising Ms. Pace to stick with her schooling, because that's one possession nobody ever can take away from her.

One family, also with a daughter named Ashley, sent 18 presents to the Paces.

A magician is doing a 45-minute show Friday for the two girls and about 20 of their closest friends.

One woman took Ms. Pace out on a shopping trip and also treated her to lunch.

Someone sent two hand-made porcelain dolls for the girls. The day the porcelain dolls arrived "was the first time I really was convinced that there is a Santa Claus," Ms. Pace said.

"Before that, I felt like every time the kids asked me for something, it was ripping my heart out."

Not this Christmas.

The girls did a windfall business Christmas Day, after the excitement of the day woke them up about 4:30 a.m.

Rebecca could open a New Kids on the Block store of her own, after receiving a New Kids lunch pail, doll, folder, posters and tapes. "I'm blushing," she admitted when she opened up a poster of Donnie, one of the New Kids.

And Ashley, in a beautiful red dress with a big red bow in back, never stopped smiling as she opened up a succession of dolls and other toys.

At one point, she stopped and said, "Mom, open up yours."

Ms. Pace also was thinking of others on Christmas Day.

"Hopefully, I'll be out of this (financial situation) by next Christmas, and then I plan to contribute to The News Neediest," she said. "I can't wait until I'm on the opposite side."

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