Years ago, Francesca McCall and her sister, Chantale, made a pact: should either of them die young, one sister would take in the other’s children and raise them as their own.
It was a promise Francesca McCall, 40, never hoped she would have to uphold.
Already raising seven biological children ranging in age from 2 to 17 as a working, single mother, the 40-year-old Birmingham resident’s last conversation with her dying sister in UAB Hospital about the arrangements for their kids was no longer hypothetical.
Chantale McCall, 35, died following complications from COVID-19 at UAB Hospital in September after being airlifted there from her home in Selma. Her husband, 40-year-old Lance Martin, died at the hospital a month later, on Chantale’s birthday, also from COVID-19.
“We are very close,” Francesca McCall said of her and her four sisters. “We always used to have discussions like, “if anything happened to any of us, we knew that we wouldn’t want our children to be separated. When [UAB Hospital] called us up there, I told her that she wouldn’t have to worry. I would raise her kids and take care of them like my own.”
Francesca McCall is working at home for an insurance company during the coronavirus pandemic, but she said she worries about how she will take care of her seven children — Chayna, 2; Heavenly, 4; Trenton, 7; Aniyah, 11; Saaphyn, 13; Destiny, 14; and LaKeria, 15 — along with her sister’s five children — Serenity, 5; Trinity, 6; Angel, 13; and De’Alan, 15 — when her job demands her to be in an office when the pandemic ends.
And her sister’s children are not without anxieties of their own, she said. On top of the grief of losing both their parents, the children are reluctant to go outside out of fear of catching COVID-19, Francesca McCall said.
But all things considered, she said, “We’re doing OK. They have their [tough] moments at times, processing everything.”
For now, Francesca McCall has managed by setting up two pairs of bunk beds in three of her bedrooms for all the children to sleep, with help coming from “God and my mother,” who is staying in Birmingham to ease her burden.
“I’m taking it day by day,” she said.
And although she hasn’t asked for additional help, more is on the way through her church, West End Purity Holiness Church of God on Cotton Avenue in southwest Birmingham.
Carla McDonald, whose father was the church’s pastor until his death, when her brother took over, and her daughter, Raven McDonald, created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for necessities for the children as Christmas nears. Francesca McCall has been involved at the church since Carla McDonald’s father led the congregation.
“My daughter and I wanted to do something special for the holidays for the children who lost their parents to COVID-19,” Carla McDonald said. “Even with the emotions that she has gone through raising 12 children, [Francesca McCall] needs everlasting, everyday help, and she’s not the type of person to ask for anything.”
“We reached out to her, saying ‘we want to help you,’” added Raven McDonald.
Since the GoFundMe page launched Monday, more than $9,000 has been raised for the children.
The money will go to items like a washer and dryer [Francesca McCall does not have those appliances in her home], winter coats and clothing for the children.
And, of course, Christmas presents — even though, as Carla McDonald said, the children have decided to be more practical with their wish lists.
When Christmas comes, Carla McDonald said she plans on holding an event in the church basement for Francesca McCall to thank the donors and for the contributors to see how their money is helping the children.
“We want her to see what people are blessing her with and they want to see this family because what she’s doing is amazing,” Carla McDonald said.