Nearly two years ago, Tomasa Salgado, 37, of San Bernardino, lost her husband. He died in an accident in Mexico - leaving behind her and the children, age 3, 12, 16 and 17.
Life dealt another blow, when she was diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer.
But on Thursday, all that mattered for a loving mom was her children's happiness.
And that came - even in a dreary afternoon rain - when a group of San Bernardino High School ROTC cadets arrived at the family's one-bedroom apartment in a Suburban full of gifts.
Toys, two bicycles, $200, a gift card for Stater Bros....
"I never expected this for my family," Tomasa said in Spanish, the emotion too strong for English she otherwise speaks passingly. "Just to see my daughter's face now, this is so happy for all of us."
Her daughter, Mariana, 16, smiled shyly at classmates, unsure how to express how her gratitude.
Tomasa wasn't able to stop hers.
She played with the cap on her head only a moment before she began tightly hugging the ROTC students and others in the room.
ROTC students and others from throughout San Bernardino High School came together when they heard the story of the Salgado family.
Students saved money to buy toys for the children, including many who had no direct connection to the family or ROTC. One student had been saving money in a jar to pay for a prom ticket.
He donated that money to the family.
"They didn't even know the family," said Jamie Rios, outreach coordinator for San Bernardino High School. "For the whole student body it was very, very touching."