As fate worked to chip away at everything Sara Chance had built up, she never lost sight of what was most important to her – her children.
“They’re my everything,” she said. “My kids are the reason I live. They’re the reason I breathe. They’re the reason I get up. They’re the reason I do everything I do.”
The last few years have not been easy for her and Danny, 14; Dominick, 13; Julianna, 8; Dylan, 7; and Leilani, 5.
Chance, 33, had a promising career in fast-food restaurant management.
“I made a pretty decent living,” she said. “It wasn’t a million dollars, but we lived on it. We were comfortable.”
That was until several car accidents – one on the Scajaquada Expressway in April 2009 and another on the Thruway in January 2011 – left her with herniated discs in her back and neck and unable to work even part-time.
“That job entailed me being on my feet 50, 60, 70 hours a week working at different stores,” she said. “I couldn’t do it anymore.”
As she waits to qualify for disability benefits, another series of setbacks this year has uprooted the family multiple times.
Her home in the Sheridan Parkside neighborhood of the Town of Tonawanda was burglarized while the family was away, she said, and most of their belongings, including the kids’ toys, were taken.
“They went as far as to take my Christmas ornaments,” she said.
They moved to an apartment in Lackawanna but were evicted with three days’ notice after a court fight with the landlord over utilities.
“We left with what we could carry,” she said.
So they relocated with their meager possessions to the West Side.
“I had that room with just blankets thrown on the floor,” she said, gesturing to a nearby bedroom. “We all slept in that room.”
Making matters worse, the transmission on the family car broke after they sold their SUV to pay for other repairs on the vehicle, leaving them without a way to get to doctors’ appointments or the grocery store. Now, Danny carries the groceries during their walks home.
“Mom just can’t do it,” she said. “I can’t lift it. It hurts.”
She worries that the surgery required to fix her back would be risky and unsuccessful.
“I don’t want to end up in a wheelchair,” she said.
The outlook for Christmas was gloomy as Chance worried about finding gifts for the kids. The family didn’t even have a tree until Chance’s husband surprised them by having one delivered from a nearby seller on Breckenridge Street.
“I have nothing yet,” she said softly. “Absolutely nothing.”
But the family will benefit from donations to The News Neediest Fund, which accepts toys and cash to purchase holiday meals and gifts for families, including Chance’s. She agreed to be interviewed by The Buffalo News to help put a face on the struggling families who are helped by the Fund.
Chris Hochulski, assistant director of the Town Boys & Girls Club, where the children have been members since 2008, signed the family up.
“They’re great kids,” Hochulski said. “They’re going through a tough time, but some kids are as strong-willed as their parents and these kids seem to bounce back from everything. They’re really a delight to have with us.”
The club provides after-school meals and homework help, and volunteers Rico and Nancy Torres drive the kids to and from the club each day. Chance is grateful that the club has remained a constant in her kids’ lives as they were forced to leave schools and friends behind.
“They have done wonderful things for my family,” she said. “There’s no limit.”
She hopes to eventually move back to the Town of Tonawanda closer to the club where her children receive so much support, though she said the lack of a car is the biggest barrier to getting back up on her feet. And she hopes to put her managerial skills to use again.
“I’m a manager,” she said proudly. “I’ve been a manager since I was 17. I didn’t have a job, I had a career. I was salaried. I had benefits. Literally, in like an instant, I lost it all.”