It wasn't the Christmas that Kadi Harden had imagined for herself and her 1-year-old daughter, Daliya.
The 21-year-old mom works two jobs at Rochester nursing homes to support her and her daughter, bouncing between one job and the next and sometimes putting in 16-hour shifts. She once worked 22 hours in a single day at her two jobs.
Then two weeks ago, Harden tested positive for the coronavirus, upending her life and severing her ability to work. Harden and her daughter began a 24-day quarantine that will last through Christmas and New Years and won't end until Jan. 5.
The news initially threw Harden into panic.
Harden has known more instability and mistreatment in her young life than most. Harden was born in Africa and raised in a Sierra Leone orphanage where she was mistreated. She was later adopted by foreign parents who abused her.
When Barbara Fischer of Stewartville agreed to take in Harden, who was then in her teens, Harden did not want to be adopted. Her experiences up to that point had taught her not to trust people. And yet, though there is no legal connection between them, Harden considers Fischer her "mom." Today they talk four times a day.
But two years ago, Harden was living on the streets. After turning 18 and leaving Fischer's care, Harden went through bouts of homelessness.
Then sometime before the birth of Daliya, Harden began to turn her life around.
"She is an incredible person," Fischer said. "Two years ago, she was homeless and out of money and on the street. Then she went to a homeless shelter, got a job and got help with housing. Then she got pregnant.
"Something clicked in her: I have a child and I need to take care of this child. She is fiercely independent," Fischer said.
Harden embraced the value of work. She found it an antidote to the instability and uncertainty she had known most her life. Harden often has her rent and utilities paid months in advance to avoid life's unpredictability. She has started a college fund for her daughter.
"I just wanted a better life -- one without pain and hurt and suffering and all that," Harden said.
Yet a pandemic can upend the best laid plans. One day, Fischer went to pick up Harden at one of her nursing home jobs after she was done with work. They had plans to work on Harden's driving since she had just passed her driver's license test.
But Harden was upset, Fischer said. She was now being required to work in a unit with COVID-19 residents.
Fischer said her heart sunk at the news. Fischer served as a daycare option for Harden's daughter. Fischer told Harden she couldn't look after her daughter any more. Fischer is raising two 13-year-old children with severe disabilities, and the risk the virus posed to them was too great. COVID could kill them if they were to catch it.
"That really upset her," Fischer said. "Like, 'why would you (treat) me like that?' But you have to understand that I can't get COVID, and neither can my two kids."
Then Harden was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Dec. 12. Harden said she will be able to receive worker's compensation for the first 10 days of her quarantine. It's unclear what will happen after that, but Fischer has encouraged her to apply for unemployment insurance as well.
"She was really discouraged when she got sick. She's like, 'do you have any idea how much money I'm not going to be able to earn,'" Fischer recalled Harden saying. "And I said, 'well, be thankful that you have enough to pay your bills.'"
Knowing how bleak a Christmas Harden faced, Fischer last week posted a plea on the Facebook page, "Spotted in Rochester." She had seen a Facebook post in which someone was offering to give away a free Christmas tree. Harden needed a tree, Fischer thought.
"She would love a tree and things to decorate it with," Fischer wrote on the post.
Soon, a tree from Jim Whiting Nursery and Garden Center and two bins of Christmas decorations arrived at Harden's apartment door. Later came gifts of clothing for Harden and Daliya, as well as cleaning supplies to keep her apartment clean of germs and viruses.
"I'm telling you, it made her day," Fischer said, describing Harden's delight at the gifts. "She said, 'look at what this person sent me.'"
Christmas is special because it means giving gifts with no expectation of reciprocity. Harden had been on "wrong end of the deal" many times in her life, Fischer said.
That's what made the gifts so special. Nothing was expected in return.
To help: If you want to help out with Harden and her daughter Daliya's Christmas, you can text Barbara Fischer at 507-358-6920 for more information.