News: Giving back to the community
Story by Staff Sgt. Dixie Manzanares
It was like a child's dream: A multitude of toys, big and small, for boys and girls from tots to teens lined the shelves of the Colorado National Guard Armory in Grand Junction, Colo. Families from all across Grand Valley congregated outside the facility in their cars awaiting their gifts from the generous donors, Dec 21-22.
For two days, the Colorado Army National Guard, Salvation Army and numerous other people and organizations came through in grand style to assist more than 1,300 local families by providing food and Christmas gifts to those unable to afford anything else this holiday season. An amazing 60,000 pounds of food and thousands of toys were contributed despite the damaged economy, which has taken its toll on charitable giving this year.
Families wishing to receive food and toys had to register through the Salvation Army by filling out applications and telling their stories of need. Those selected were given a specific day and time to report to the armory.
Days prior to the event, 15 Soldiers volunteered their time assembling the distribution site outside and inside the armory; packing boxes full of non-perishable items and sorting toys by age, gender and size in preparation for the myriad of needy families.
Because of the overwhelming amount of families who were expected, extensive planning went in to the distribution.
During the event, volunteers guided the families from inside the armory where they listened to a short briefing, then to another area to shop for toys.
Two sections of the armory were reserved for the clothing and toys.
One section, called "Angel Bags" contained gifts donated through the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program.
Through the program, needy children's names and lists of their specific wants and needs were previously hung on a tree like ornaments. Patrons chose listings from the tree then shopped for specific items for specific children. If a child's name was not previously chosen, families shopped in another section of the armory, called the "store," which contained all the other donated toys.
Though the process, each needy child received a large gift, a small gift, an outfit and a stocking stuffer. After the families shopped, they drove to the back of the building where volunteers waited with the food boxes. Each family, depending on size, received one or two food boxes filled with fresh fruit, potatoes, onions, eggs, a frozen turkey and other holiday dinner fixings.
"We take [it] for granted, but these kids will wake up having four to five presents under the tree, and they will be thrilled to death," said Army Master Sgt. Tim Smith. "There were a couple women in tears today. They are relieved and a weight has been lifted off of their shoulders because their kids are going to have something to open on Christmas. This is why we volunteer to do this, because there will be a kid with a smile on their face."
"I do this because I love people and everybody should have a Merry Christmas," said Susan Potts, a Salvation Army volunteer.