Jacqueline King never thought that happy stories like hers really happened. Being homeless with three children had made her rather cynical.
"Being in a situation like this makes it hard to believe in fairy tales," Ms. King said. "It actually makes things look kind of hopeless."
Although she says it still seems like a dream, Ms. King and her family will be sent on a special shopping spree Wednesday at the March Mammoth Sale, sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Vendors have arranged the shopping spree for the family and are donating desperately needed clothing items.
"I don't know how I'm going to take it; it's so new for me," Ms. King said. "Even when we were all together, I couldn't go shopping because I had to put the children's needs before mine."
Seven area clothing retailers are taking part in the sale, designed to raise money for the Children's Center while giving retailers a chance to clear their inventories. Almost $30,000 was raised last year, said Bill Glazer, owner of Gage Menswear, one of the participating merchants.
"Our message is that we can't expect everyone else to take care of the [homeless] situation," Mr. Glazer said. "Everyone has to pitch in. And since we own apparel, this is what we can do."
Sale organizers asked Children's Center representatives to find a family that could most use the items. Children's Center doctors found Ms. King's daughter, Jessica, 4, during their regular medical screening of children at her day-care program.
The Kings have since presented merchants with a list of their most pressing clothing needs, including shoes, sweat suits and, most of all, coats.
"They're in desperate need of coats," Ms. King said. "They've basically gone all winter without them."
Ms. King said it was hard to watch her children go out in the cold with no jackets and often in worn and tattered clothing. She has not bought any new clothing for the children or herself in years.
"It made me feel so helpless," said the former medical secretary, who is now in a program to refresh her skills.
"But there was nothing I could do."
Ms. King and Jessica live at a city homeless shelter for battered women. Her 10-year-old twins, Brian and Bernard, live with a sister. Wednesday's outing also will give them a much needed opportunity to do something as a family.
"This gift from Mammoth Vendors is right on time," Ms. King said. "I'm in no shape to get the kids what they need. They'd still have to go with hand-me-downs if it were just left to me."
The Mammoth Sale, in its 14th year, will be at the Timonium Fairgrounds 4-H Building tomorrow through Sunday. Admission is $1 for people 16 and over.
Ms. King called the giveaway "a blessing." She said it takes some of the sting out of homelessness, where feelings of dejection and separation can be pervasive.
"It makes me feel like I'm not alone," she said.
"It's always good when people reach out to you but especially when you've been through so much."