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Photo courtesy of Christianne Green
Four-year-old Sophi Green, born without arms and abandoned at an orphanage, was adopted in China by the Greens.
At the orphanage, these children hold out their arms to you and it becomes real. We found ourselves saying, ‘OK, can we find room for one more?' —Christianne Green

HERRIMAN — There is no shortage of love and laughter in Jeremy and Christianne Green’s household. But space? That’s a problem.

With three biological children, five adopted special-needs kids from China and two more about to join the family, every square inch counts.

A storage room has been turned into a bedroom, and closet space is as rare as cheap rent in a Manhattan high-rise. The laundry room is tucked inside a hallway closet, and it’s been years since the entire family could squeeze around the kitchen table for dinner.

For years, the Greens dreamed of the day when they could afford a larger home, but they never complained. Their children were happy and thriving, and that was the important thing. They would make do.

But now, some big-hearted neighbors and friends have decided they shouldn’t have to.

Inspired by the Greens’ compassion, they have decided to build that dream home for the family, one piece at a time, through a fundraising website called puzzlethemhome.org.

For $50, donors can buy one piece to a 5,000-piece puzzle of the Greens, which organizers hope will add up to a custom-built home sometime next spring. To get the word out, Tami Huber, a friend of the family, recently asked to get together over a Free Lunch of minestrone and breadsticks with Christianne and share the Greens’ story.

“They’re so unselfish and such a good example to us all,” she says. “I’ve always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to lighten their burden a little bit?’ ”

Christianne and Jeremy already had three children of their own when they were inspired to adopt Elli, then 2, after a visit to China in 2007.

Born blind and autistic and abandoned by the side of the road as an infant, “we just knew she was meant to join our family as soon as we saw her,” says Christianne, who has since made six more trips to China with Jeremy to adopt the children nobody else wants: children with heart conditions, missing limbs and skin malformations.

For most of these orphans, the Greens were their last chance. Their files had languished in adoption agency cabinets for years, with other overseas families waiting to adopt healthy infants.

“At the orphanage, these children hold out their arms to you and it becomes real,” says Christianne, 36. “We found ourselves saying, ‘OK, can we find room for one more?’ ”

After Thanksgiving, the Greens will fly to China to bring home the newest member of their family, Cali, 12, who was born with spina bifida and sent to an orphanage after her parents died. Cali can’t walk, so Tami and other volunteers are incorporating wheelchair accessible doorways and an elevator into their dream home plans.

“Our biggest need right now is to find people who are willing to donate time and materials to help build the house,” she says. “If enough people come together, think of the difference we can make in the lives of this unique family.”

Besides Elli and Cali, the Greens have adopted Xander, 7, who has a rare disease that causes vascular malformations; Sophi, 4, who was born without arms; Graci, 14, who has a serious heart condition and has required multiple surgeries, and Lexi, 7, who is blind. Another blind child, Connor, 12, will join the family sometime after the New Year.

“People say we’ve saved these kids,” says Christianne, who is also the mother of Taylor, 13, Parker, 12, and Jessica, 9, “but I truly believe it’s the other way around. They’ve saved us. They have changed our hearts and our focus in life.” On this Thanksgiving Day, she says, “we know what’s important now.”

More information on how to help the Greens can be found at puzzlethemhome.org. You can also follow their story on their blog, abeautifulroad.com.

Have a story? You do the talking, I'll buy the lunch. Email your name, phone number and what you'd like to talk about to [email protected].

Cathy Free has written her "Free Lunch" column since 1999, believing that everyone has a story worth telling. A longtime Western correspondent for People Magazine, she has also worked as a contributing editor for Reader's Digest.