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As he approached the front door, Michael Hussey lets out a cheerful bellow.

“Honey, I got more toys.”

Hussey has a twinkle in his eye, a stocky build and sacks full of presents. You almost expect him to pull up in a sleigh. Instead, he relies on his Hyundai sedan to get him to the suburban homes where he loads the trunk with donated dolls, toy trucks and warm winter coats. It’s all part of an operation his wife, Mary Ellen Hussey, runs from the front room of their temporary home.

“Put it up here,” she calls, “I’ve got to start sorting some of this stuff.”

For nearly 20 years, Mary Ellen Hussey has been collecting presents for Housing Families, Inc, a Malden nonprofit that helps homeless families. Over the years her reach and reputation have grown. Emails often land in her inbox requesting help.

“It’s two boys, one’s 10 and the other’s going to be five,” says Hussey, as she reads aloud from an email sent by a grandmother.

Hussey sends out her own emails seeking donations. Friends forward the requests to more friends. It’s a kind of viral generosity.

“Yes, love it, love it,” exclaims Hussey, as she reads an incoming email from someone offering to donate presents.

Hussey calls her network “email angels".

“All I do is organize it and I pick it up and I deliver it. That’s it, that’s all I do,” she says, before acknowledging, “It is a little bit of work.”

It's hours of work. And, as Christmas approaches, the time commitment increases. Hussey says she never makes a promise she can't keep. Yet, when she hears about a family in need, she always finds a way to help. Some years she's procured presents for up to 250 kids. 

This year, it's been tough to find the time to reach out to the email angels. The Hussey's have been struggling with the same thing that consumes many of the families they help: trying to keep a roof over their heads.   

A car exploded in their next door neighbor’s driveway last March and set the Hussey’s Everett home on fire.

 “There was myself and my husband, there was my daughter,” Mary Ellen Hussey says, standing on the charred remains of her back porch. “There was six of us, and we had nowhere to go.”

A car explosion last March set the Hussey's Everett home on fire.
Stephanie Leydon/WGBH News

They got out safely, but just about everything they owned is gone. The family, including two grandsons, spent three months in a motel. 

“It’s been a rough year,” she says.  

As he put his arm around her, her husband echoes the sentiment. “Yes, it has," he says. "It’s been a rough year.”

Insurance money only goes so far, and for the Husseys, it has taken a long time to kick in. Nine months after the fire, melted siding is peeling off the outside walls. The wood frame is burnt black. Anyone would understand if this holiday the Husseys focused on their own misfortune. But it’s only made them more determined than ever to help others.

“Going through this, I know how hard it is and the last thing you need to worry about is Santa going to find me,” says Mary Ellen Hussey. “How do you say, ‘I’m sorry honey, Santa can’t find you today because we’re not in a house?’”

They don’t know when their own house will again be home. So, for now, the Husseys are spending big money renting a small apartment. But they figure a lot of people — especially kids — have it worse.

And as she admires a set of Barbie dolls that came in with the latest haul of donations, Mary Ellen Hussey knows she has something no tragedy can take away: the power to tap the keys of her well-worn laptop and send out a summons.

Her email angels always deliver.