PEORIA — In an eventful year, the most exciting moment for Angela Whelan was the birth of her eighth grandchild Nov. 2.

“This has been the highlight of my life,” said Whelan. “It’s the first grandbaby I’ve ever seen born. It was a scheduled C-section, so I got dressed up and I got to go in and cut the cord and hold the baby even before momma got to.”

Whelan has had a busy year. In July, after her son-in-law started serving a 12-year prison sentence, she moved back to Peoria.

“I decided to come home and help my daughter and her children,” she said.

This will be Whelan’s first Christmas home with her grandchildren, and she wants it to be nice. The family is having financial difficulties, so she applied to the Journal Star Christmas Fund for help. This year the fund will provide 5,085 food baskets and 1,700 toy-filled stockings to families in Peoria, Tazewell, Woodford and Fulton counties.

Though she’s now glad she moved home, it wasn't an easy decision for Whelan. Peoria holds some difficult memories, she said.

“I moved away in 2002,” she said. “I grew up in Washington, and I got married young. My husband was an older man, and he was very abusive. I finally got the nerve to leave him after he hit my head real bad in front of the kids. It was a bad time, I self-destructed myself with drugs. Then I met someone else and moved away.”

Living on the coast in Mississippi, Whelan gained a healthier perspective on her life. She stopped using drugs and worked for a while as a bail bondsman. When her second marriage ended, she decided it was time to take care of herself.

“When you are married to men who are controlling, you lose yourself,” she said.

Whelan lives with her daughter Towanda Young and four children in the house Young owns on the East Bluff. Though Young and the children get food stamps, the family struggles, and she has fallen behind on real estate taxes. Whelan works full time in the collections department at J.D. Byrider, earning $10 an hour, which helps them get by. Young doesn’t currently work because the baby, who was born a few weeks prematurely, needs constant care.

“I was gonna try to see if I could get a computer for the home, then maybe Towanda could work from home and take care of the baby,” said Whelan.

The family is happy to live simply, said Whelan. They don’t have a car, riding the bus or asking rides from friends when they need go somewhere. There aren’t enough beds in the house, so Whelan sleeps with two grandchildren every night.

“We are humble, and we make do with what we have,” said Whelan.

In spite of their difficulties, Whelan is glad to be home helping out. She enjoys her grandchildren, who call her Beemon.

“The 2-year-old just started doing it,” she said. “I don’t know why. But it stuck.”

At 47, Whelan is a young grandma with lots of energy to enjoy the boisterous brood.

“We play and wrestle,” she said. “I just want them to be happy."

Like a lot of families living paycheck to paycheck, Christmas is difficult. Whelan asked for help so her grandchildren can have a nice holiday.

“I want to have something for the kids under the tree,” she said. “They’ve had a hard time with their daddy gone.”

Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.