It might have been 20 years ago, but when Michelle thinks back to that Christmas morning in 1979, the joy she experienced upon seeing her favorite present under the tree is still as palpable now as it was then.
"I had a thing for elephants when I was little, so my parents got me this big stuffed elephant that year," recalled the 28-year-old Litchfield resident. "I must have slept with that thing every night for as long as I can remember. It was in my bed every night until it fell apart years later.
"I remember seeing it under the tree and running up to hug it when I realized it was actually bigger than I was at the time. It was like a security blanket for me . . . I loved that thing."
Michelle, who is married with three children of her own, has turned to the Santa Fund for help creating what she hopes will be similar memories for her girls.
Started by The Telegraph in 1962, the Santa Fund was established to help struggling parents provide gifts for their children during the holidays. For more than a decade, the Salvation Army and Nashua Pastoral Care have been helping to register families and distribute gifts.
Michelle's daughters, ages 13, 11, and 4, have each been plagued by different medical afflictions their entire lives.
Her oldest, who has been diagnosed with failure to thrive, weighs just 60 lbs, and her 11-year-old has been through six ear operations in the past few years. Their medical problems pale in comparison however to the extensive time spent in the hospital by their little sister, who has received 18 different medical diagnoses to date.
"She (the youngest) was born in November, and I remember for a while we weren't sure if she would make it to Christmas. Somehow though, we got to spend that first Christmas at home. We spend months and months in the hospital throughout the year, but we've always been lucky enough to be together as a family on Christmas."
With Christmas around the corner, Michelle said her family is as healthy now as it has been in a while, and she is hopeful they will be blessed with another hospital free holiday. Unfortunately, with medical bills piled on top of a failing economy, providing gifts for her daughters seems to be harder than ever this year.
"My husband is already working almost 70 hours a week at his job," she explained, "but with medical bills on top of everything else with the economy, it feels like times are tighter than ever."
"We've kind of explained to them that they can't get everything they want, but it's hard when they see their friends with all of these cool presents and you can't do anything about it."
While she knows she won't be able to give her daughters everything they want, Michelle remains hopeful that with a little help from the Santa Fund it will still be a merry Christmas for her girls, whose present requests range from fashion and designing kits, to anything princess or Scooby-Doo related.
Even with the smaller gift totals for her daughters, Michelle said her family still has plenty to look forward to and plenty to be thankful for.
"Every year we decorate the tree together, and each year I try to buy them each an ornament that they can have for when they move out. My mom did that for me, so it's nice to keep up that tradition.
"I'm just glad we're all relatively healthy right now. As long as we can spend the holiday at home together I'll be happy."
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This article appears in the November 21 2008 issue of New Hampshire Business Review