12/22/10 — Christmas cheer

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Christmas cheer

By Gary Popp
Published in News on December 22, 2010 1:46 PM

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The Salvation Army distributed food toys and other items to more than 500 families on Tuesday. Here, volunteer Bob Pleasants sorts Christmas stockings into groups based on age.

The Salvation Army gave 500 local families a head start on Christmas Tuesday, distributing Christmas goods to those who had applied for help earlier this year.

"We are serving approximately 65 families every hour, all day long," said Major R. Andrew Wiley, commanding officer of the Salvation Army, as people streamed through the organization's offices, picking up toys, food and other holiday goodies.

More than 1,000 children are expected to have a happier Christmas because of the Salvation Army's efforts.

Beginning in October, households were able to apply for the Christmas goods, which included toys, food, stuffed stockings and clothing. Wiley said that almost every family who applied met the qualifications.

"We evaluated the applications based on income and expenses and any particular crisis that may be happening in that household to determine who is eligible," Wiley said, adding that many households are only a problem away from a real crisis.

"Most of the families that apply with us are struggling to make ends meet. We see a lot of single-parent situations. We had some elderly folks who applied for food because they struggle and don't have government assistance to help them, so they will apply for that extra bit of food just help them through the Christmas season," Wiley said.

Wiley said that even for families who are getting by, all it might take is a vehicle breaking down, or a parent getting sick and missing a week of work to prevent parents from buying Christmas gifts for their children.

In a large room at the Salvation Army on North William Street, tables were positioned in long rows against the wall overflowing with toys, while others were stacked high with red stockings stuffed with small goodies.

Parents were invited to pick two toys and a stocking for each child 12 years old and younger. The toys and stockings were divided on the tables into age specific groups.

On the opposite side of the room, food boxes were distributed by volunteers. The white cardboard boxes were filled with canned goods, dry goods and a turkey product, which was donated by Butterball. On top of each box sat a loaf of bread.

"The intent is that they will be able to take that box home and prepare Christmas dinner for their family and enjoy that around the table at home as opposed to going to an institution site for Christmas lunch," Wiley said. "And hopefully, there is enough items in the box that they will get a meal after Christmas as well."

Mary Lou Jones of Pikeville is the president of the Salvation Army's women's auxiliary and participated in nearly every aspect of distribution day.

Mrs. Jones, one of the many volunteers who helped with the event, is a retired nurse who said she enjoys helping others.

"I am retired and I like to be among people," Mrs. Jones said. "Doing charitable work keeps me busy."

For her, caring for others comes naturally.

"Most of the people are so grateful. It is such a joy," Mrs. Jones said. "It is just exciting."

The volunteers do a lot of work that began weeks before Tuesday's giveaway. They went through the applications, helping people get the required documentation to be eligible, then shopped for gifts, transported them, set up for the day of the distribution, helped the people find the items they were looking for and answered questions.

"I don't think the public realizes how many people we serve, or understand the scope of what we do. It is unreal how many people apply," Mrs. Jones said.

She said it takes more than just a group of motivated Salvation Army volunteers. Wayne County residents and their generosity are the backbone of the effort, she said.

"Without the community we couldn't do it," Mrs. Jones said.

The toys, food and money it takes to make the distribution day possible comes from an array of sources: Contributions to the red kettles found outside many stores, toys generated from Angel Tree donations and private donations made directly to the organization made the distribution day possible, Wiley said.

Rashinda Robinson and Tasha McNeil stood outside of the building Tuesday waiting for their turn to pick up the Christmas goods for their families.

Ms. Robinson is the mother of a 5-year-old boy and 6-year-old-girl. She said she appreciated the time and effort put in by the Salvation Army volunteers.

"It's great, because they don't have to help," she said. "It's also good because it lets a lot of kids have something when they wake up on Christmas morning who otherwise wouldn't."

Ms. McNeil, the mother of a 10-year-old daughter, also praised the volunteers.

"They do a good job. It takes a lot of patience," she said. "I think it is wonderful."

Both mothers said they are doing better than a lot of the other parents who were picking up items. Ms. McNeil said that she has heard others say that this is the only Christmas their kids are going to see.

"This year has been a tough year for everybody," she said. "It's worth it for me to stand in line for two hours in October and to stand in line today."