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City move has been tough on the kids

With dad disabled and mom working, there is little chance to escape a cramped apartment.

June 06, 2003|Shane Nelson | Times Staff Writer

When Daniel Mercado moved to San Diego four years ago, he was looking forward to re-creating the middle-class lifestyle his family enjoyed in Savannah, Ga. But before his wife and kids could join him, their sole provider fell off a two-story ladder at his job stringing cable lines and he suffered debilitating neck, back, knee and arm injuries.

Mercado's weekly income plummeted to $186 from about $1,300. His wife, Teresa, struggled to make ends meet in Georgia. When the family reunited in California 18 months later, their new home was at the Westwood Transitional Village, a two-year Salvation Army program that helps homeless families to live on their own again.

The changes have been difficult. To work out their problems, the family attends weekly counseling sessions together, said Linda Martin, child services coordinator at the village.

Last summer, the program sent the two older kids -- Mercado's stepdaughter Tabatha Sapp, 13, and their daughter Ciara, 10 -- to Camp Gilmore in the Santa Monica Mountains with help from the Los Angeles Times Summer Camp fund.

The girls, used to spending many of their school vacations fishing and hiking with their father before he was hurt, enjoyed being in the outdoors again. The two are returning to camp next month with their 12-year-old sister, Karina, Mercado's daughter from a previous marriage, who moved in with the family last November. Their brother Isaac, 7, will attend day camp while 2-year-old Sammy will be going to day care.

The blended family of seven is in transition again. Last December, they moved into a cramped three-bedroom apartment after qualifying for Section 8 housing assistance. The rooms in their Santa Monica apartment are small, jam-packed with bunk beds, TVs, computers and toys.

Their mom, 33, started a new job working nights and weekends as a cashier at Sav-on in Malibu. Mercado, 35, does the grocery shopping and cares for the kids. He rests during the day to conserve his energy for the older children when they get home from school.

They are allowed free time to play video games or surf the Internet after they finish homework and clean their rooms. Tabatha and Karina, the two oldest, also help their cane-toting dad with dinner and caring for their toddler brother.

Every year since 1954, readers and employees of The Times have sent thousands of needy children to summer camp. This year, about 11,000 children will experience a special summer thanks to the $1.4 million raised last year.

"Camp is great, because it's something all three girls can experience together," Mercado said.


The annual camp fund campaign is part of the Los Angeles Times Family Fund, a fund of the McCormick Tribune Foundation, which this year will match the first $1 million in contributions at 50 cents on the dollar. Donations are tax- deductible as permitted by law. For more information, call (213) 237-5771. To make credit card donations, visit To send checks, use the attached coupon. Do not send cash. Unless requested otherwise, gifts of $25 or more are acknowledged in The Times.

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