Andy Kingsland cooked Thanksgiving dinner for his family this year in their own apartment. Other relatives came over, and they had a great, “normal” holiday. An aunt even brought along a new winter coat for their oldest daughter, 5-year-old Lakoda.
What a difference a few months and a helping hand can make.
In the spring, Andy and Monique Kingsland were living separate lives. Without a home of their own, he was staying in the suburbs with his parents and Lakoda; Monique had landed with a friend of a relative, squeezing in with their toddler and newborn.
In the end, there was too much distance for the couple and too many difficulties for those arrangements to last.
“We were caught in a position where we didn’t have anywhere to stay,” Monique Kingsland said. “All our families’ houses were full. There wasn’t room anywhere for all five of us.”
That’s when they found the Salvation Army, which provided them with a place to stay as they got their lives back together.
“They were so nice,” she said, the relief still coming through months later.
Now that times have gotten better for the Kingslands, they are providing assistance to the Salvation Army.
Volunteers like the Kingslands are a big part of what makes the Salvation Army and other service agencies work, especially during the holiday season.
The Salvation Army is among the organizations supported by The News Neediest Fund and the Western New York Holiday Partnership, which, through gifts and meals, provide happier holidays for families going through tough times. Last year, 11,000 children received toys and 12,000 families enjoyed holiday dinners thanks to the generosity of Western New Yorkers.
The Kingsland family moved into an apartment in the Salvation Army’s shelter on Main Street, where Monique took care of the children – Lakoda and Gabriel, 8 months, and Andria, 22 months – while her husband worked.
Soon they discovered they had found much more than a place to sleep. The shelter came with a community. They started attending Sunday church services there and went to Family Camp Weekend.
“That’s where we really learned what the Salvation Army was about. We found out we could become ‘soldiers,’ too,” Monique Kingsland said.
“We were looking for something, we wanted to be part of something,” her husband explained.
They began Bible study and the children took part in the Kids’ Club. They helped organize and bake pies for a fundraiser. And they cannot stop smiling when they talk about it all.
“We want to volunteer as much as possible,” Andy Kingsland said. “Lt. (Raymond) Arocho helped us so much. The kids love it. We want to give back.”
With Monique Kingsland’s career on hold temporarily while she stays home with the children – the cost of child care makes it too expensive for her to work – the couple has to stick to a tight budget and can’t contribute financially. Instead, they invest their time. Their new apartment is on the West Side, a short drive from the Salvation Army headquarters, and they come over three or four days a week, at least.
While the family comes for the activities, they also appreciate the continued support of the staff and of other families who understand what hard times are like.
“Even though we found a place to live, it’s still a struggle,” Monique Kingsland said. “They make it easier to keep your sanity here.”
As Andy Kingsland puts it, “You do the work – and it’s a lot of work – and they provide the resources. They know how to pick yourself up, and how to come up with a plan to do it. They’ve been like a rock – and God has been giving us blessings.”
Families can find out about qualifying for donations by calling 211. To learn more about how to give, check online at corp.buffalonews.com/us/community/causes/news-neediest/.
The Kingslands are optimistic about the coming year, when they hope to officially become soldiers in the Salvation Army and build a stronger foundation for their family.
For the immediate future, Lakoda says Christmas is her favorite holiday and is confident Santa will find her new home. Her parents are looking forward to the celebration, too, and if Andy Kingsland decides to roast another turkey for Christmas dinner, this time he will remember to take the giblets out before he puts the bird in the oven.
Andy and Monique both laughed, recounting how an uncle discovered the overlooked packet last Thursday while carving the Thanksgiving turkey.
After a year of being homeless and feeling helpless, it felt good to have a holiday crisis that amounted to nothing more than a well-roasted bag of giblets.