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Blog 'miracle' saves Christmas for hard-luck family

  • Story Highlights
  • The kindness of strangers and power of the Internet saves one family's Christmas
  • The Sampsons faced foreclosure until a friend blogged about their plight
  • Within days, strangers from around the country donated more than $11,000
  • Ebony Sampson: "It makes you understand what the season is all about"
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By Oliver Janney
CNN
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(CNN) -- A family facing foreclosure is anything but a unique story in these troubled economic times.

Daniel and Ebony Sampson with their children. "It's a personal miracle," she says of how their home was saved.

Daniel and Ebony Sampson with their children. "It's a personal miracle," she says of how their home was saved.

But this is a happier story of one family whose financial ruin was averted by the actions of a friend, the compassion of strangers, the networking power of the Internet and the holiday spirit of giving.

"This is our Christmas story," said Ebony Sampson. "It's going to be told for generations and generations to come."

Sampson, who lives in Aberdeen, Maryland, with her husband, Daniel, and their two young children, has overcome more hardship than one person should ever have to face. When she was in the 10th grade, she lost her entire family in a horrific car accident. Raised by a grandmother in New York, Ebony eventually used some life-insurance money from her parents' death to buy the home in Aberdeen, near where she grew up.

But in June, Daniel got sick. After several tests, his doctors concluded that he was suffering from salmonella after eating a tainted tomato. As a new employee of Bank of America, he had not accrued enough paid time off to keep his job as a credit-card account manager. Video Watch how the Sampsons' home was saved »

Suddenly, the sole breadwinner in the Sampson household was out of work. Though the Sampsons received unemployment checks from the government, the money wasn't enough to make ends meet.

First came the shut-off notices from the electric company. Then one of their cars broke down. One morning, Daniel woke up and looked out his bedroom window and saw his truck was missing. It had been repossessed.

With no job, no car and no income, the Sampsons got another surprise: Ebony Sampson learned she was eight weeks pregnant.

The Sampsons returned home from church, where they are practicing ministers, on a Sunday in November to find a stranger knocking on their front door. He wanted to put a bid in on their house. Ebony told him their home was not for sale. The next day, the Sampsons were notified that they were facing foreclosure unless they could come up with $10,000 in the next two weeks to bring their mortgage up to date.

"Once we received that letter, it was like, 'Oh my God, what are we going to do?' " Daniel Sampson said. "I don't think anyone in their right mind would receive a foreclosure notice and not be rattled by it."

Somehow, the couple maintained their sense of humor. Ebony Sampson called one of her oldest friends, Jaki Grier, and jokingly asked her if she had $10,000. Jaki told her, "Sure, just let me open up my invisible purse!"

But then Grier got an idea.

A self-described geek, Grier started blogging years ago. Since then, she's contributed to a magazine's Web site and regularly posts thoughts and life happenings on her LiveJournal page. So, she published Ebony and Daniel's story, along with a link where people could make a donation.

At the most, Jaki thought she could raise enough money to help the Sampsons pay a security deposit on an apartment after their home was auctioned.

But donations started pouring in. Within 24 hours, Grier's blog had raised $1,000, far exceeding her expectations. People started linking to Grier's blog from sites across the Internet and around the country.

Attorneys posted legal advice. Others in similar situations offered sympathy. One woman sent a donation with a note that said she had just lost her own home but wanted to help anyway. Another woman wrote that she didn't have a car but would walk to her grocery store with a jar of change and donate it to the cause.

Yet another e-mail came from a woman who was unemployed, with no job prospects. She donated a dollar.

With every donation, the total raised ticked higher and higher on Grier's blog.

"Everybody wants to give to a charity, but so many times when you give to a charity you don't really see where your money goes," Grier said. "At least with this, you saw the little [donations] ticker go. I think that made people excited."

Four days after Grier's blog post, she had raised $3,400 -- enough to repair the Sampsons' car. That night, Grier went to bed ecstatic. The next morning she checked her PayPal account and was stunned to find the balance had ballooned to $10,900.

In the time it took Grier to take the donation link down from her blog, the balance had reached $11,032. In just five days, she had raised enough money to save her friend's home. A Baltimore TV station, WBAL, caught wind of the story and put it on the air. Someone contacted Daniel Sampson and offered him a job interview.

"It's been overwhelming," Daniel Sampson said. "For me, out of all the donations [we] received, it was a little kid [who] came knocking on the door early Saturday morning ... with a five-dollar bill in his hand. He just came up to the door and said, 'Here you go, mister.' Then he just walked away. I was, like, speechless. He couldn't have been more than 8 years old."

Now Daniel and Ebony Sampson will be able to enjoy Christmas much more than they thought they would just a few weeks ago. They say that once their children are grown, they'll tell them the story of how one holiday season they came within days of losing their house. They'll spend this Christmas full of thanks.

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"It doesn't seem real to me, and so I just thank everyone out there that cares," Ebony Sampson said. "There really was no hope for us. Then, out of nowhere, just the kindness of strangers, just people that came and, you know, provided for us. Jaki was our beacon of light that led them to us.

"It's a personal blessing. It's a personal miracle. It makes you understand what the season is all about."

CNN.com's Brandon Griggs contributed to this story

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