Renishia Franks has had her ups and downs. She was a standout student at Vigor High School, where she graduated with honors in 2011. She still displays the trophies she won as a member of the Wolves basketball team, along with a photo of herself on the freshman homecoming court.

But lacking guidance, she quickly fell into ambivalence and casual drug use after high school. She briefly enrolled at Bishop State Community College before her first pregnancy, but with an unsupportive partner found higher education too difficult to pursue.

More recently, with a second child nearing 4 years of age, she attempted online courses. But medical problems resulted in a $16,000 hospital bill and she’s been struggling to survive ever since.

“I was cramping so bad, I couldn’t sit down, I couldn’t lay down, I couldn’t move and I couldn’t walk without crying,” Franks said of the affliction, which Lagniappe has chosen not to disclose. “It was the worst pain ever.”

Franks was initially undiagnosed at the hospital but administered antibiotics and painkillers during a four-night stay. She was later diagnosed and treated by the Mobile County Health Department. Then came the bill.

“I couldn’t afford ‘Obamacare’ at the time,” she said. “They wanted me to pay $131 per month, and that’s more than my light bill. I had to choose between health care or a place to live. I tried to go through Medicaid, but they told me I made too much money.”

At her most recent job, serving at a pizza restaurant in North Mobile, Franks said she makes $2.95 per hour plus tips. On a good night she brings home $30. On a bad night she’s left empty-handed. She spent a small infusion of money from her tax return this year on relocating her disabled mother, who was living in a mold-infested apartment.

Last year, after losing a job at a convenience store that was unwilling to work around her child care schedule, a cousin referred her to the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. Initially afraid she would not be able to afford Christmas gifts for her children, Marcy and Jeremiah, Franks said she “swallowed her pride” and the Salvation Army was able to provide one of the most memorable Christmases ever.

“I can barely afford to live here,” she said, huddled on the couch in a Section 8 apartment within earshot of Interstate 65. “Every day I drive on bad ball joints because I can’t afford to get my truck fixed. I have to pray every day as I’m driving my kids to school, ‘Lord, just let this truck hold up a little bit longer …’”

But recently things have been turning around. She applied for a job at the Amazon sortation center and as of last month had been preliminarily hired. She was told it would be part-time work, but pay $11 per hour and offer health insurance.

“I’ve always loved to work — I love to make money and I love to shop,” she said. “But being a single mother and having not finished school, it’s just always hard to make ends meet.”

Life’s difficulties are not lost on her children, but judging by their behavior — Jeremiah is inquisitive and polite and Marcy is friendly and playful — the family makes the best of what they have. Eventually she’d like to own her own restaurant. Jeremiah wants to be a police officer. Marcy wants to be a doctor.

“You have to stay strong because you can’t break down in front of the kids — they think mommy is a superhero. But some days I feel like I can’t get out of bed because I’m afraid about what is going to go wrong.”

In recent years, The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama’s Angel Tree program has provided gifts for close to 2,500 local children in Mobile and Baldwin counties. There are several ways the community can help with Angel Tree:

• Adopt an individual Angel from the tree at most Wal-Mart Vision Centers (typically begins after Thanksgiving).

• Sponsor an Angel Tree (10 or more angels) for your business or organization.

• Host a toy/gift drive for the “Forgotten Angels,” those who do not get adopted or whose gifts do not get returned.

For more information on hosting an Angel Tree or toy drive, contact Maj. Jennifer Richmond, associate area commander at [email protected] or call 251-438-1625.