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Salvation Army helps mom get a fresh start

ATWATER -- Kari Woodral is anxious about where she is going to live and if her 3-year-old daughter will have packages to open for Christmas.

But the 26-year-old Atwater resident feels blessed and thankful that The Salvation Army, through its A Helping Hand at Christmas program, is helping her find a more-affordable studio apartment in Winton.

"I'm very glad they were able to help me," Woodral said. She's living temporarily with her sister-in-law and brother-in-law in Atwater and hopes to move to the Winton abode, perhaps by Christmas or by New Year's Eve, if the funds are received in time.

The Helping Hand program, in its 25th year, has raised about $30,000 toward its $65,000 goal. Capt. Joel Harmon, Salvation Army commander, said it's impressive the way the Merced community supports the holiday program.

Helping Hand is co-sponsored by The Salvation Army and the Merced Sun-Star. Since its inception, the program has raised more than $1 million to help those less fortunate at the Christmas holidays.

"The willingness of Merced-area residents -- many of whom are struggling themselves -- to help others in need is truly awe-inspiring," said Eric Johnston, the Sun-Star's president and publisher. "Their generosity will not only brighten the holidays for many, but will span the coming year, helping many more."

Woodral is most worried about providing for her only daughter, Lindsey.

"It's kind of hard around Christmas, and I want to make sure my daughter has a gift for Christmas," Woodral said. "This is the first time I have fallen into hardship and it's more difficult with a little girl. She comes first. I'm not even worried about myself anymore."

Once she's situated in the Winton apartment, which costs $500 a month but has utilities included, Woodral plans to renew her year-long job search in earnest. Her previous apartment in Turlock cost $650 a month, not including utility charges, something she said she could no longer afford.

"I would like to find anything I can to settle down with," Woodral said. She has worked in fast-food restaurants in the area and as a motel desk clerk in the Lake Tahoe area. She hopes to find a job in retail sales.

Woodral's boyfriend of almost seven years, Steven McCarthy, also is looking for work. He and his brother have a landscaping business and things have slowed down this time of year.

It looks as though The Salvation Army, through Helping Hand, will be able to help quite a few people this year and in 2012, Harmon said.

"The majority of people desire Merced to be a good place to live," Harmon said. "We definitely have a lot of people in need and we are trying to be wise in the way we spend money."

Woodral said her goals next year are to quit smoking, find full-time employment and improve her health. She said she has high blood pressure and needs to lower her cholesterol levels.

But she's thankful her daughter is healthy now.

Lindsey Woodral was born 2½ months premature, only weighed 2 pounds, four ounces, at birth and had to stay in the hospital three months. The blonde-haired child is healthy and active now, something her mom is very thankful for. "That (daughter's birth) was a hard time," Woodral said.

Woodral said she's a very open-hearted person and cares for anything that lives and breathes. She said she can't say no when somebody else asks her for help.

Harmon said The Salvation Army has received many requests for rental assistance and help with paying propane heating bills. He hopes The Salvation Army's assistance will get people moving again and able to help themselves.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at

(209) 385-2407 or