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China Grove family ‘pays it forward’ for youngest member’s birthday

CHINA GROVE — To say that Tiffany Cleaton is excited about her son’s birthday at the end of the month has to be the understatement of the year.
Jacob is turning 1, and, even though he doesn’t realize it, he’s going to have an enormous party. But it’s not really for him.
Instead, Tiffany and husband Trey, who have two other children, Ashlynn, 10, and Evan, 7, have decided to host a Pay It Forward birthday party in honor of their youngest child. The event is set for Saturday, June 1, at Neel Road Baptist Church, from 1 to 3 p.m.
Tiffany has been collecting donations of toys, clothes and diapers, which will go to a variety of agencies — Toys for Tots, the Pregnancy Support Center and Prevent Child Abuse Rowan, included.
Like many folks these days, Tiffany has been through her share of challenges.
“‘Challenges’ is a good word,” she says. “After my divorce, it was just Ashlynn and me for three or four years. Many times, we came close to eviction and we didn’t have enough food. Things were really hard. There was a point where my church in Greensboro paid my bills one month.
She adds, “We still face difficulties daily. We’re like everybody else. We struggle just like everybody else.”
Tiffany is a stay-at-home mom, while her husband works for the city of Salisbury. They’d like to sell their two-story house in order to downsize.
The couple’s two older children attend Hurley Elementary School, where Ashlynn is in third grade and an A-B honor roll student. Ashlynn recently had fun helping represent her school in Battle of the Books.
“I couldn’t be more proud of her,” her mom says. “She is a wonderful big sister.”
Main Street Mission in China Grove was the recipient of a check for $500 given by the endowment board of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church. Little Jacob was all too happy to turn over the envelope to Anne Corriher, the mission’s director.
“I was really excited when Tiffany called,” Anne says. “I thought that was a really cool thing for Jacob’s first birthday, and a way to teach children to pay it forward. The money will go to families in our community who need help with their groceries.”
Anne used that money to buy kid-friendly groceries: milk, bread, peanut butter, jelly, toaster pastries and canned fruit.
The Cleatons are friends of Karen and Michael Hanzlik, members of St. Mark’s. It was Karen’s idea that Tiffany approach the endowment board for a donation.
“That was the first donation that came in to me,” Tiffany says.
St. Mark’s is collecting items for the party. So is Neel Road Baptist, the family’s congregation.
“If you want to specifically make a donation to any of the charities we’re working with, that’s fine, too,” Karen says.
Jacob’s mom says he’ll have the perfect gift come June 1.
“Seeing people will make him happy,” Tiffany says.
For more information, visit Jacob’s facebook page, “jacob’s pay it forward first birthday,” or email Tiffany at jacobpifbirthday@gmail.com. Monetary donations may be sent to Neel Road Baptist Church, 135 Neel Road, Salisbury, NC 28147. Checks may be made out to one of the three agencies receiving donations: Rowan County Toys for Tots, Prevent Child Abuse Rowan or the Pregnancy Support Center.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.

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