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Unemployed Floridians preparing for different holiday season than years past

As many Floridians are losing their cars and can't pay their bills, gifts are taking the back seat, and quality time with family is cherished.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Many unemployed Floridians are preparing for a different holiday season than in years past, as they either are missing their unemployment benefits, or can’t survive off the amount they are receiving.

Josephine Sandelis and her husband have always spoiled their kids with gifts on Christmas morning, but after losing their jobs and their whole family catching the virus, this year will be very different.

“My son, he wanted a Nintendo Switch, and my daughter wanted this thing of L.O.L.s. And I was like, ‘Matthew, are you prepared to understand the greatest gift is we have each other?' And he said ‘no mom, the most greatest gift is to see you peaceful,’” Sandelis said in tears.

Sandelis’ husband lost his two jobs, and she lost her job as a house cleaner. Sandelis said she applies to new jobs every day, but can’t find one that allows her to schedule around her kids.

Her car is about to be repossessed, and she is unable to pay her electric bill.

“My husband and I go to sleep thinking, ‘Am I going to lose my car?’ I worked so hard for my car,” Sandelis said.

Mike Ayersman and his family decided to not even put up their Christmas tree this year.

“Why set something up in your house to stare at and realize it’s a bad year? And be like yeah, there’s nothing under it,” Ayersman said.

Ayersman lost his job working for Dicks Sporting Goods at the beginning of the pandemic.

When his job opened back up, he was unable to return.

Ayersman is a disabled veteran who lost most of his hearing in Iraq. He relies on his ability to read lips when communicating, but can’t do so when customers are wearing masks.

Ayersman says he and his wife Angela will celebrate Christmas differently this year, by going and doing an activity as a family.

As for Gia Cuccaro, this is going to be the first Christmas in years she’s spending without her daughter.

Cuccaro’s daughter was struggling with receiving unemployment payments as well, and died of an overdose just weeks ago.

“I’ve never went through a Christmas as hard as this one is going to be,” Cuccaro said. “It’s devastating.”

All Cuccaro wants is to be with her grandchildren this Christmas after their mother passed, but she can’t even afford to travel to see them.

“I’m getting hardly anything so unfortunately neither are my grandchildren—who are used to being spoiled by me,” Cuccaro said.

There are thousands of other Floridians also struggling this holiday season.

Unemployment expert Vanessa Brito has coordinated Amazon wish lists for some families in need and is matching them with people who would like to fulfill them.

If you would like to donate to a wish list, email 2MillionStrongXmas@gmail.com stating you would like to be a donor.

Brito will email you Amazon Wish List Links to go to families in need. Those receiving gifts have been verified as unemployed by showing proof of an active unemployment claim.

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