Share the Season: ‘There are people in the community who care and who give’

A mother who is watching her 3-year-old decline with brain cancer that can no longer be treated is among the Wichitans seeking help this year from Share the Season.

Vicki Jimenez quit her job as a cashier in 2017 after the youngest of her six children was diagnosed with a brain tumor known as asanaplastic apendymoma. The tumor was at an advanced stage. Although treatment was attempted, the cancer has been too aggressive. In August, doctors gave the little boy a couple of months to live, but he’s still fighting.

“He’s declining week by week,” Jimenez said Tuesday. Five days ago he was limping. This week, he can’t walk.

“I’m trying to keep myself sane as a mom because I don’t know how I’m going to handle that.

“He’s the cutest little boy. He’s a fighter. He’s taught me a lot. He’s always kept a smile on his face.”

Jimenez is receiving help with utility bills through Share the Season, the annual holiday program sponsored by the Wichita Community Foundation, the Salvation Army and The Eagle. Her other children range in age from 7 to 18. At this time, the family doesn’t have car tags, so they have no transportation of their own.

“It’s been an emotional roller-coaster,” Jimenez said. “It’s gotten me so much in debt. ... You feel hopeless. Trying to save one son and trying to provide for your other kids — there’s no words to explain.” Returning to work at this stage is not an option for the single mom.

“I’m going to stay with my son. He’s so little, and he’s my son.”

Those who apply for help through Share the Season are trying to cope with varying degrees of loss. The program mainly aids those who have jobs but who have run into problems such as an illness that threaten to derail them financially, or those who just got laid off. It helps them over the hump and cheers them through the holidays, said Shelly Prichard, president and CEO of the Wichita Community Foundation.

Her favorite story is about a man who received help one year and returned the next with a gift of $500 for the program. “A year later his life had smoothed out for him,” Prichard said. “Pretty amazing.”

Those who want to help make donations starting as low as $1, Prichard said. Their gifts mainly pay expenses such as utility and medical bills, with the money going directly to vendors.

In its 19th year, Share the Season “is an ongoing proof from the community of how charitable our people are who live here and how they are interested in helping the people directly,” Prichard said.

Last year, $216,000 was donated to help 210 families. There were 892 donors. Since its inception in 2000, Share the Season has helped 3,500 families with $3.3 million in gifts.

Everyone who has qualified for the program over the years has received assistance, said Jill Skaggs of the Salvation Army. That charity screens applicants, while the foundation collects and disburses money. The Eagle carries ads and stories about the program.

“There are not a lot of programs who help lower-income working people,” Prichard said. “Sometimes these people fall through the cracks. It’s a one-time deal where they can’t quite get traction, and we hope Share the Season can help with that.”

Applications for those seeking help will be accepted online or in person through noon Dec. 14. The Eagle will run stories each day through Christmas about people who are receiving help from Share the Season this year.

One of the people who was helped last year is Sarah Carr. She had just undergone surgery to insert a shunt in her brain to drain the excess cerebral fluid that her body is always making. At that time, she was hoping for a reversal of Chiari malformation, a condition which she described as “my brain ... falling out of my skull.”

This year, the wife and mother of three knows that the condition will not be reversed, and in fact has to be monitored because it can be progressive.

“Basically I have constant pain in my head and the base of my skull,” she said. She is 35 years old. Her eyesight, hearing and ability to communicate also can be hampered, and she can’t return to work.

“I’m learning to adjust, kind of learning to make life easier for me. I’m going to counseling.”

Carr is also counting her blessings. Her husband was able to switch jobs, leaving one as an over-the-road truck driver and getting one that allows him to be home every day, “because I can’t always care for the kids and myself,” she said.

Her illness has made her family closer. “It makes all of us appreciate things more. At least I’m here, and it didn’t kill me. They caught it in time.”

She and each member of the family signed a thank-you card and sent it to the Salvation Army for the help received from Share the Season last year. Before the program stepped in, her husband had been missing a lot of work to help out at home, and it had looked like there would be no money to celebrate Christmas.

“I’ve never had help before or asked for help, a little bit of pride in the way,” Carr said. “It made me feel so appreciative of things.” Her family, struggling along with her, joined in the excitement.

“It helped get us out of a rut,” Carr said. “I always feel guilty for everything going wrong because of my health. Things could be better if I could be working or feeling better. ... That made me feel like I was worth it, to keep fighting.”

Her follow-up story is perfect for Thanksgiving Day, Carr said.

“It makes you so thankful, that there are people in the community who care and who give. Without that we would have been in a lot of trouble. You don’t realize it until it happens, and it opens your eyes.”

How to get help

People can apply for assistance at www.sharetheseason.org and at the Salvation Army headquarters, 350 N. Market. If you have questions about applying, call 316-263-2769 or visit www.sharetheseason.org. The application deadline is noon Dec. 14.

How to give help

Donors can send contributions to Share the Season, Wichita Community Foundation, 301 N. Main, Suite 100, Wichita, KS 67202. Donations can also be made through PayPal online at www.sharetheseason.org.