Kelzey Hinton's Christmas tree was up and ready in time for Santa last night.
And thanks to the generosity of Tribune readers - and one very thoughtful, anonymous woman - the 5-year-old and her family are able to spend Christmas in the Mesa condo they rent. And they'll get to stay there for a while.
The Hinton family is one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of East Valley families who have faced a financial crisis this year. Shane Hinton's company folded at the end of November with little notice, leaving him unemployed.
The family faced eviction. They weren't sure where they would spend the holidays.
After they appeared in a Tribune story about how parents can help their children when a family is faced with a layoff or possible eviction or foreclosure, East Valley readers called to lend a hand. Some donated gift cards and toys through the United Way of Mesa.
One reader, a woman who wants to remain anonymous, wrote a check to cover the next six months of the family's rent. She even included money for United Way to provide Wal-Mart gift cards to the family for food, necessities and a few Christmas gifts.
After receiving news of the gifts, the family decided to put up its Christmas tree Saturday, something Kim and Shane Hinton had put off in fear they would be forced to leave their condo.
"It is so hard to write how I feel," Kim wrote in an e-mail to the Tribune. "There are not enough words to tell everyone how grateful we are."
She put those thoughts and thanks in a letter to readers in Thursday's paper.
During a meeting last week with Dan Wollam, vice president of community solutions with the Mesa United Way, Kim could hardly keep a dry eye. The generosity of strangers took the family completely by surprise.
"Do you believe in Christmas miracles?" Wollam asked her.
"I do now," she said.
Wollam then told her about the woman who came in to help and the message she had for the Hinton family.
"She wanted your family to have a really nice Christmas," Wollam told Kim. "She said, 'The dividends that come from helping people's lives are more profitable than investing in our own retirement accounts.'"
Wollam said the Hinton family gave a face to everyone struggling this year.
"People want to do something, but they can only do what they know," Wollam said. "Being able to help you is being able to help everybody in need this Christmas."
Kim's hands shook as she opened the letter with the gift cards.
The United Way is working with the Hintons' landlord to have rent checks sent directly there.
"And one day, you'll be in a position to help others," Wollam said.
"We'll never forget it," Kim Hinton said.
The Hintons have already shared their blessings. They split a food box given by Kelzey's school to them with one of Shane Hinton's former co-workers, who is still unemployed.
"That's the thing about miracles like this. They spread," Wollam said.
Linda Haskell, the program manager at Mesa Community Action Network who helped identify the Hinton family for the Tribune story, said Kim was hesitant at first to be a part of the story. But Haskell encouraged Kim and her family since their situation mirrors what others are going through.
"I said, 'You really never know how your words may inspire someone else to step forward and seek help as well,'" Haskell said of her conversation with Kim Hinton. "Little did we know people would be inspired by her story and want to help her."
"For us," Haskell said, "we were all really moved and felt this is truly what Christmas is all about: to reach out and help our neighbors."
Since the story ran, Shane found employment at a fast-food restaurant that is working with his schedule to pick up Kelzey after school. And Kim finished final exams for her massage therapy studies. She is scheduled to graduate in May.