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Home for Christmas thanks to a stranger's air miles

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image copyrightImafermatasoholdme/imgur
image captionSarah Jesseman hasn't spent the holidays with her family since graduating from university three years ago. But that will change this year

Dreams of spending Christmas at home with family will come true for at least ten people who'd thought they were going to be spending the festive season apart, all thanks to a businessman's enterprising scheme.

As BBC Trending recently reported, Peter Shankman offered to donate his many thousands of frequent flyer points to others on image-sharing site Imgur.

In response around 120 people posted heartfelt stories of divorce, ill health, foreclosure and financial woes, each vying to attract the most votes and win a free flight home for the holidays.

"I was just humbled beyond belief by what everyone was posting and sharing," Shankman wrote when announcing the winners.

One of them, 25-year-old US airman Nicholas Hall, hasn't spent Christmas with his family in Texas since 2009.

"I was estranged from my family after I came out as gay," he told BBC Trending.

"Since then I haven't spoken to them, and I haven't celebrated the holiday because it's like salt in the wound to be reminded of a family that has parted ways."

image copyrighttmntGheyGuy/imgur
image captionNick Hall's dog Paddington helps him to deal with his anxiety

In 2015 after being diagnosed with HIV and suffering with severe depression, Hall tried to take his own life.

"Well, I've learned a lot since my diagnosis - about myself and about my life, and what I want to do with it," Hall wrote in his flight-winning post.

He now has plans to open a stress management centre for those with HIV and Aids, and says he needs to start on his new path by making amends with his family.

"This initiative means that I'll be able to fly home," Hall says. "And, if I get let in the door, hopefully mend relationships that have been broken through a dialogue of forgiveness and acceptance."

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Another winner, 23-year-old college graduate Sarah Jesseman from New Hampshire, hasn't spent Christmas with her family in Minnesota for three years.

"The last time I saw my family was at my college graduation. I miss them every day," she wrote. "I can't express what it would mean for me to see them."

Jesseman was diagnosed with a rare eye disease called Acanthamoeba keratitis earlier this year. She's had to take long periods off work for treatment and mounting medical bills have completely depleted her savings.

But after her Imgur post received the second highest number of votes, Jesseman will be able to fly home for Christmas.

"I still kind of can't believe it," she told Trending. "Peter is such a giving and kind person to do this for strangers who happen to be down on their luck. I was going to spend Christmas alone and now I will be surrounded by friends and family in the town where I grew up."

image copyrightPeter Shankman
image captionShankman will be spending the holiday at home in NYC with his three-year-old daughter

As well as donating his own air miles, Shankman has also encouraged other people who travel a lot to donate their unneeded air miles to a charity with a similar mission.

"With the Home for the Holidays campaign we have been able to confirm just over 530,000 points, which will probably translate to between 10 and 20 round trip tickets," says Erik Paquet, one of the charity's founders.

He says his team is working hard and still reaching out to donors who've pledged miles, so the charity should be able to arrange flights home for many more people.

And although the window has closed to enter to win a flight home air mile donations are being accepted until 23:59 Eastern Time on Friday 9 December.

Blog by Sarah McDermott

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