BISMARCK, ND -- When Elizabeth Garcia looked at the bare area under her Christmas tree and considered the bills that had been mounting since her last job layoff, she knew she had to do something to give her family a merry holiday. She turned to social media.
Garcia, 33, one of thousands of North Dakota residents to lose their jobs during oil's current downturn, went public with her plight on Facebook. She offered to sell a camper she had bought earlier this year for $500 so that she could give a real Christmas to her son, 8, and daughter, 5.
Although she got no offers for the camper, the replies brought her to tears. A store offered to let her pick out presents for her kids. People donated toys, store gift cards and grocery store cards.
"If you saw my Christmas tree right now, it is absolutely ridiculous how many presents are under there," she said. "If I wouldn't have put the (Facebook) post up, I probably wouldn't have been able to get my kids any presents at all."
Garcia, a single divorced mother who moved to Watford City in the western North Dakota oil patch from Colorado in 2012 to start a new life, was laid off last summer from her job with a company building a natural gas plant. She later was laid off from welding and carpentry jobs.
The North Dakota Petroleum Council estimates as many as 20,000 workers have lost their jobs in the current oil downturn.
"There's a new norm," Louis "Mac" McLeod, executive director of the Minot Area Homeless Coalition, said of people struggling and agencies like his working overtime to help them. "And we don't like the new norm. But it is what it is."
Garcia was hired by a local laundry, and she's also selling homemade food to get by until she can find another oil field job. She hopes to make North Dakota her permanent home; she likes the schools and her kids are happy, she said.
And that was before the outpouring of support from her Facebook post. She has lived in many states, she said, and "I don't think this would have happened anywhere else."
"There are more warm people here than anywhere else I've ever lived," Garcia said.