Snow days take on new meaning when you're the mother of 15 children. It begs the philosophical question of which is easier: getting them up, dressed and ready for school or entertaining them all day, after they've had a nice long morning nap?
Daphne Dorsey, 35, of Upper Marlboro, is the mother of Jonathan, 15, Jarod, 14, Vincent, 13, Jeremy, 12, Josilyn, 11, Joniece, 10, Jared, 9, Victoria, 8, Vashti, 7, Jonetta, 6, Benjamin, 5, Brandon, 4, Jaqueline, 3, Bethany, 2, and Jamia, 10 months old.
She simply scoffs at either challenge. When the county's recent snow days turned into cabin fever for most, Dorsey never spent a day feeling like the overwhelmed woman in a shoe.
Because, she said, "We weren't in the house. These children pulled out sleds, tires, box tops, anything they could find and enjoyed the snow. They were excited. I was excited. I enjoy my children at home."
Record-breaking snowstorms are hardly a challenge to Dorsey, who is facing a life alone raising her children on limited income.
In June, her husband of 17 years, Jonathan, died suddenly of a liver disease, leaving her with a grieved heart and the challenge of keeping her family together and in their home.
"But God put healing in place," Dorsey said.
On a recent day when school was dismissed early, Dorsey rustled up dinner -- kale greens, macaroni and cheese and barbecue chicken -- knowing full well that the aroma would keep a collection of her brood hunkered down in the nearby family room, watching a movie. Dorsey worked her huge pots and pans, while giving thanks.
"My neighbors always watch out for the children. They have watchful eyes over us, and anything they think is wrong, somebody is here to try to make it right," Dorsey said. Then she baked chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
Dorsey's continuing struggle centers on her family's need to survive year-round. Monthly food bills are about $1,000. Meeting her monthly mortgage payment of about $1,400 continues to be a frightening test and, she said, she is facing possible repossession of the family's 15-passenger Ford van, which her husband purchased, used, a year before his death. (After inquiries from a reporter, the credit company this week lowered her interest rate, waived late fees and lowered Dorsey's monthly payment.)
Dorsey said she continues to pray for more miracles and look for lasting solutions.
She has been heartened by the help she has gotten from friends and strangers alike.
Gwen Graves, a member of Largo Community Church in Mitchellville, learned about the Dorseys through a friend. "A couple of my choir members were at lunch," Graves said. One of them, Juanita Lewis, shared a story about the family, printed in the Jan. 2 issue of Prince George's Extra.
Graves recalled Lewis saying, "This looks like such a lovely family. Somebody ought to help them."
Graves, who is a project manager at AT&T, shared the story and photo of the family with others and solicited help.
"Gwen printed a copy [of the story] for me, and I read it," coworker Jesse Hansley said. Hansley shared it with his men's group, Men for Christ at Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton.
"One of the deacons has a widows ministry," he said. Hansley and his wife, Claudia, gave a donation. "Just to see that she's fighting to keep her family together means a lot to us, " Hansley said.
A group of Graves's friends, church members and coworkers have pooled their resources to provide groceries, volunteer services, such as legal assistance, and monetary donations. Graves said she's really searching for more.
"What we're trying to do is get our list of supporters together to contribute X amount of dollars on a regular basis each month. If you can't contribute each month, then I'll take whatever people can do," said Graves, who is talking with people almost daily and trying to come up with new ideas to help the family.
Rev. Thomas H. Sims Jr., a senior pastoral assistant at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Landover, said his church has given Dorsey a large donation."In order to help a large family, the donation needs to be significant, even if it is on a short-term basis," Sims said.
Many others have contacted Dorsey since the newspaper story was published.
"A lady I've never met in my life, Joycelyn Sloan, every month she sends me a beautiful card and a donation, faithfully, "said Dorsey, who went on to name a long list of donors.
Graves said more could be done and is dismayed that politicians and large local charities haven't come forward to help Dorsey.
Dorsey needs about $3,300 a month to get by. And that's not including gassing up the van for about $60 or paying for any unseen emergencies, such as a sick child or "water damage in the basement because of the snow. I had to pay someone to come and fix it," Dorsey said. Each month, she comes up $500 to $600 short. Meeting her mortgage and van payments, she said, is her biggest worry.
"Somebody could write a check for that, in our county, and not even blink, "Graves said.
Until that happens, Graves said, "we'll just keep on going out, talking and tapping, getting a core group, and reaching out."
In 2002, before the publicity of the newspaper story, many in the community came to the rescue. Some helped to pay for her husband's funeral. Others donated school supplies and child-care time. Still others contributed groceries, clothing and household items.
Bishop Leon L. Harper, pastor of the House of Prayer of the Apostolic Faith Church of God Inc. in Upper Marlboro, gathered a core group of area churches and interested parties to raise money for Dorsey.
"They all wanted to help," Harper said. Harper met the Dorseys when Daphne's late husband worked as a contractor on Harper's house and church. A strong Christian man, Jonathan Dorsey made a lasting impression, Harper said. "I visited him in the hospital," he said. "I went to the funeral."
The Mattaponi Elementary School in Upper Marlboro helped them, "and now, James Madison Middle School [in Upper Marlboro] has gotten on the bandwagon," Dorsey said.
Pulte Homes Inc. in Baltimore completed repairs on the house and remodeled the kitchen, free-of-charge. Pulte adopts a family every Christmas season. Last year, it also made a couple of Dorsey's mortgage payments. Hewlett Packard donated a computer for the children, and both businesses played Santa Claus, along with the children's health care provider, Davidson Pediatrics in Anne Arundel County. Verizon gave a donation, too.
"It was an outpour," said Dorsey, caught up with emotion, "I don't even have words for it because if it wasn't for these people that God placed in our lives, I would not know where our family would be."
A fund has been set up through Bank of America to help the Dorsey family. Contributions can be made to the Jonathan F. Dorsey Sr. Fund, P.O. Box 74, Cheltenham, Md. 20623, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.