Angela Garcia Rodriguez is approaching the holidays with a mix of anxiety and optimism. Her husband has been called back to work after a six-week layoff and she hopes one day to resume her sidetracked career in nursing.
But in the meantime, times are tough financially and the 41-year-old mother of four grown children and the grandmother of three toddlers wonders how she will be able to buy clothes and Christmas presents for the youngsters.
Still, all is not gloom and doom. Rodriguez is thankful she received rent assistance from the Salvation Army's "A Helping Hand at Christmas" program and remains optimistic about the future.
John Wainwright, chairman of the annual Helping Hand program run cooperatively by the Salvation Army and the Merced Sun-Star, said $31,976 had been received through Tuesday.
"It's hard to tell which way it's going to go," Wainwright said. "People certainly are responding. We have a list of people who give every year who are very faithful. People are very generous."
Much has happened lately in Rodriguez's life. She and her husband, Fernando Rodriguez, were married last month and she moved to Merced from Modesto. Her husband was laid off in early November from his job with Britton-Konynenburg of Modesto tending to apple and cherry trees in the Grayson area but started back to work last week.
"We're struggling a little bit but good as long as we've got a roof over our head," Rodriguez said. "All I care about is getting presents and clothes for the grandkids. It's hard because it's Christmas time."
Capt. Joel Harmon, commander of the Merced Salvation Army branch, said donations are pretty much on track with last year's giving and that's a hopeful sign. He hopes the Helping Hand program will come close to or exceed this year's $67,500 fundraising goal.
Harmon arrived here in July and doesn't know about past needs but suspects hardships locally are greater than in past years.
"There are always people here seeking help (Salvation Army office on West 12th Street). The need seems to be up," Harmon said.
Rodriguez has been a certified nurse's assistant for nearly four years. She's appealing her dismissal from a job in Modesto in July and would like to become a registered nurse. She was last registered as a CNA in the state of Washington and said it will cost $80 to change her license to California, along with added costs for fingerprinting and background screening.
She hopes to continue providing private care to elderly patients. If she could get a small second car she could go back to work.
"Everything costs money," Rodriguez said. "My goal for the future is I want to be a registered nurse but the funds aren't there right now. It's a dream and what I have always wanted to do."
While she's the beneficiary of others' charity now, she stresses the importance of helping others even less fortunate than she is.
"It's not about receiving; it's about giving and caring. I'm always helping other people and the little I have I would give it to them. Instead of throwing away my kids' old clothes, I would give them away."
Rodriguez has a special burden about caring for the elderly. She said caregivers need to treat the elderly like they are their own parents; if they don't have heart, they shouldn't be doing it in the first place.
Rodriguez was born in Idaho and raised in Texas. She graduated from San Juan Alamo High School in Pharr, Texas in 1985. She got married when she was 16 and had two children before the couple divorced. She married again in 1993 and had two more children. She and her second husband were divorced.
Rodriguez and her third husband, Fernando, met in 2007 through a Mexican radio station's Valentines Day promotion and it's been true love ever since.
"He's a hard-working person and I'm very proud of him. He's been looking for another job in Merced but hasn't been able to find anything," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez's eyes light up when she looks at her daughter, 22-year-old Kimberly Hinojosa, and the two grandchildren sharing their South Merced apartment. Alizay Garcia is an active 2-year-old and shares attention with Jayden Garcia, who is 11 months old. Her first granddaughter, Melanie, is one year old and lives in Pharr, Texas with her son, Armando Hinojosa.
Rodriguez said her 19-year-old son, Rene Luna, pushes her to pursue the registered nursing degree and motivates her to press forward.
"I want the future to be better," Rodriguez said. "It will, everything takes time. One door closes and another opens. Even though, we're down, we're not out. I still keep a smile on my face."