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In rough patch, Merced father grateful for assistance during holidays

Anthony Baker has lived an up-and-down life.

With help from The Salvation Army's "A Helping Hand at Christmas" program, the 33-year-old Merced man hopes his future holds more ups than downs.

The cooperative holiday giving program co-sponsored by The Salvation Army and the Merced Sun-Star has raised more than $43,000 and more donations are expected to trickle in during the next couple weeks.

Baker, a forklift operator at the Dole Food processing plant in Atwater, received help paying his Pacific Gas and Electric Co. bill. He also is hoping for help with rent and to somehow find a car.

"Transportation is an issue," Baker said. "The main thing is a car; even a $500 car can help me get a part-time job. A car would change my life."

Capt. Joel Harmon, the Merced Salvation Army Corps commanding officer, said the response to the Helping Hand appeal has been good. He's not sure if they will reach their $65,000 goal but said The Salvation Army still will be able to help quite a few people.

"Donations are still trickling in and things are going well," Harmon said.

Baker is working several days a week at Dole during a production slowdown and hopes to be promoted to a supervisor role after he completes three Spanish-language courses at Merced College.

"Right now I'm stressed," Baker said. "It's a struggle. I'm living paycheck to paycheck. The bills keep coming and I'm on the verge of being evicted. A delay in getting unemployment and a cut in hours has put me in a bind and I can't get ahead."

Baker said after he graduated from University of California at Berkeley in 2003 with a bachelor of science degree in economics, he moved to Turlock. The death of his 3-year-old daughter, Amiyah Loreal Baker, on April 18, 2010, from sickle cell anemia, tore his family apart and resulted in a divorce after 14 years of marriage.

"Times are really hard," Baker said. "In due time a lot of wrinkles in my life are being ironed out. We will always have struggles, but God blesses us beyond our understanding. I'm all about improving my life."

Elaine Gale, who is handling Helping Hand donations, said more contributions have yet to be tallied. She said there are a lot of needs out there and local people are needing help with water bills and utilities.

Baker thanks The Salvation Army for helping him and others during unfortunate circumstances.

One of Baker's challenges is raising his 9-year-old son, Tre-Von Elijah Baker, who's a fourth-grader and straight A student at Ada Givens School.

"Raising a son by yourself is tough," Baker said. "You have to be careful what you say to him and who he associates with. I keep as positive as I can. I try to be grateful for everything I have today; tomorrow's not promised to us."

In 2008, Baker received his HVAC certification from Gateway College and the Arizona Builders Association. Low demand for heating and air conditioning services, along with a sour Arizona economy, have limited Baker's options in this field.

Baker moved to Merced a year and a half ago. He lived briefly with an aunt and uncle and then his twin brother before finding an apartment in South Merced. His first job in Merced was as a night auditor at a Merced motel.

He then was hired on as a donation coordinator for Goodwill Industries and stayed there until he was offered a job at Dole about 10 months ago.

Despite his struggles, Baker said God has been good to him and his son and he feels blessed.

Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or