It’s a cheerful Christmas this year for a Dumfries woman and her three children thanks to the efforts of a group of Alexandrians who pitched in to make the holiday special for the family.
The idea started when Steven Champagne and Jeffrey Beaudoin, the owners of The Lounge, a restaurant and bar at Washington Suites Hotel in West End Alexandria, were talking about wanting do something for a family in need for Christmas.
“We said, ‘Hey look, we’re not going to exchange Christmas gifts this year,” Beaudoin said. “Let’s just donate.”
They were joined by some friends and patrons at the bar, who agreed that instead of giving each other gifts this year, they would pitch in to make Christmas special for a veteran’s family in need, said Taylor Ham, spokeswoman for ServiceSouce in Alexandria, which serves the disabled. Champagne and Beaudoin were already helping veterans on a regular basis by visiting and feeding veterans at Fort Belvoir and Walter Reed.
The group contacted the coordinator of ServiceSource’s Warrior Bridge Program, Mike Costanzo, who reached out the Maureen Collins, a veterans employment representative with the Virginia Employment Commission in Woodbridge, to help identify a family in need. Collins suggested Telisha Claiborne, a disabled U.S. Army veteran with three children, 13-year-old Arielle, 10-year-old Alex and 4-year-old Alena.
Costanzo, himself a disabled veteran, thought it was a perfect match.
“A couple Christmases ago, I was in the same position,” he said. “I was under the threat of eviction and had nowhere to go. So, doing this for her and coordinating it for her and making sure everything ran smoothly gave me a lot of satisfaction, because I was there.”
Collins had first met Claiborne in September, when she was living in a shelter with her children in Loudon County. Recently, she was approved for temporary assistance for HUD housing for veterans and has moved into a townhouse in Dumfries. Collins also helped Claiborne find a temporary assignment with a company in Stafford. However, Claiborne still lacked necessities for the home, including beds for her children.
The group of about 14 people raised more than $3,200 for the Claiborne family, some of which was able to be used to support other veterans at Fort Belvoir. On Dec. 15, they delivered and set up all of the furniture and other household items, such as bedsheets, that Claiborne needed for her home.
The next day, they sent a limo to pick up the family at their house and bring them to the Washington Suites, where they had dinner, received a visit from Santa and opened presents stacked under a tree.
Arielle received a laptop computer from ServiceSource’s “Keep IT Green” program. The children took home the rest of the gifts to open on Christmas. On Christmas Eve, the children also received bicycles for Claiborne to put under the Christmas tree.
Ham said Claiborne told her, “Nothing like this has ever happened to her before.”
“I meant so much because, you know, I was just getting on my feet,” Claiborne told Patch. “I didn’t know what I was going to do for Christmas. … They gave me just about everything (I needed) and there’s still some stuff to come for the kids. I’m very excited. I’m very blessed."
“She’s a very grateful woman,” Collins said. “And you don’t find that in too many people, and that’s one of the things I liked about Telisha.”