For Francesca McCall, 40, the decision to add five kids to her existing brood of seven was simple, after her younger sister Chantale passed away from the virus on September 16, followed by her brother-in-law, Lance Martin, a month later.
She said she and Chantale had made a promise long ago to look after each other’s children if anything happened to either of them, so when the unthinkable happened, she was ready to step up.
Now the blended family of 13 – with children ranging in age from one to 17 – are settling into their new normal at McCall’s home in Birmingham.
‘We are just going to try to raise them to be the best that they can be,’ McCall told WBRC.
Francesca McCall is raising 12 kids on her own after her younger sister Chantale (pictured together) died of coronavirus in September, leaving behind five children
Nine children in the McCall’s newly blended family are seen together in a photo posted on Facebook by Francesca. Each child is wearing a shirt honoring Chantale
The McCall family’s world was thrown into turmoil in September, when Chantale was diagnosed with COVID-19 and landed in a hospital in Selma, where she lived with her husband Martin and their kids.
McCall said her sister’s condition worsened rapidly before she was transferred to a larger hospital in Birmingham, where she was placed on a ventilator before succumbing to the virus.
‘Doctors called us in to say our last goodbyes and I told her she didn’t have to worry,’ McCall said.
‘I was going to make sure that I took care of her kids. I know that is what she would do for me.’
‘It just seems like it’s not real,’ McCall added. ‘We are just expecting her to come back.’
Five weeks after his wife, Martin also died from the virus on October 25, on what would have been Chantale’s 35th birthday.
Miraculously none of the couple’s relatives tested positive for the virus over that period, even though McCall, her mother and her children had all stayed with Chantale a week before she was diagnosed.
Francesca is seen with her biological kids, who are now settling into life with their five cousins
McCall said the family is still reeling from the deaths weeks later as they gear up for their first holiday without two cherished faces.
It’s been especially challenging for Chantale and Martin’s children, who also had to say goodbye to their hometown.
‘They’re doing okay at times and at times they break down, so they’re having their days and their moments,’ McCall told CNN of her nieces and nephews.
‘It’s been very hard losing their friends, church family and basically everything that’s held dear to them.’
The family has also struggled with some space constraints as they try to fit into a home meant for six.
‘We have all the boys in one room and we have all the girls in the other two rooms, so everybody’s kind of just on top of one another,’ McCall said.
‘We’ve been making the best out of the situation.’
The family has struggled with some space constraints as they try to fit into a home meant for six. ‘We have all the boys in one room and we have all the girls in the other two rooms, so everybody’s kind of just on top of one another,’ McCall said
McCall said she’s been working from home to keep an eye on the kids as they attend school virtually, and her mother moved in to help out for the time being.
‘It’s a little chaotic at times, trying to get everybody online for school and getting them fed before they get in school,’ she told CNN. ‘Once you get them up and get them situated it’s okay.’
McCall is also receiving a helping hand from her church and other members of the community who were inspired by the strength she’s shown in becoming a mother-of-12 almost overnight.
Family friends set up a GoFundMe campaign to offer financial support, which has already raised more than $262,500 as of Thursday afternoon.
‘She loves these children with all of [her] heart,’ Carla McDonald, a church member who helped arrange the GoFundMe, told CNN.
‘She is not the one to ask for assistance from anyone. She is just trying to raise 12 children and meet their everyday needs not only for Christmas.’
McCall said she has been amazed by the community’s support in such tough times, telling the outlet: ‘I really, really appreciate it.’
She said she’s planning a special celebration for the holidays, which will include a balloon release in Chantale’s memory.
‘Our plan for Christmas is celebrating my sister’s life and her legacy she leaves behind,’ McCall said.
She’s also hoping her story can help convince other families to take the coronavirus threat seriously – especially since her sister, who worked for a home health agency, was very careful and got sick anyway.
‘She did all the precautions,’ McCall told WBRC. ‘She wore the mask. She wore the gloves. She was very very careful, so we have no idea how she came into contact.’
‘It is real,’ she said of the virus. ‘It is serious and take the necessary precautions.’