For many, the constant din of rolling shopping carts brimming with donated toys on Friday was as sweet as the jolly Christmas carols brightening the mood.
Salvation Army of Broward County volunteers distributed presents from their “toy shop” in Fort Lauderdale to the parents of nearly 3,000 children in need. Donors bought enough gifts to fill a gymnasium for children whose “Angel” cards were plucked from Christmas trees at area malls this holiday season.
Without the generosity of strangers, Lashonda Stacks, 30, said she would have had to postpone Christmas because of a tight budget. Not celebrating on Dec. 25 would have been a tough lesson for her three daughters, ages 4 to 9.
“We let them know a place to stay is more important than gifts,” she said.
Victorina Amelco, of Hallandale Beach, only had enough budgeted last year to buy one Christmas present to share among her four children. This year, she walked out of the “toy shop” with a gift for each: a Tinkerbell tea set, race cars and more.
“I have no words to tell you how important it is to have presents for my children this Christmas,” she said. “I’m filled with emotion seeing the volunteers at work.”
Another single mom of four, giddy as she pushed three toy-filled carts, joked about needing to buy more wrapping paper.
Her message to donors who cared enough to give: “I wish I could send you all cards. Thank you so much from my little ones!” Sharonda Spears said.
The toys are unwrapped to empower parents as they wrap them on their own and prepare for Christmas morning, said Lilly Gallardo, Salvation Army’s director of social services.
“Every child who applied gets at least two toys,” she said. “We’re blessed with the number of volunteers we have.”
Santa’s helpers, too, were touched by the reactions of parents who stopped by for toys and got much more from volunteers— warm welcomes, wishes for a merry Christmas and hugs. Sushena Persaud, 19, signed up to help just two days ago and now wished her family had joined to help spread holiday cheer. She said a mother arriving to pick up gifts cried at the sight of toys for her little ones.
“I thought that was so amazing,” Persaud said. “It really wasn’t what I expected.”
The nearly 150 volunteers also became personal escorts as they filed out of the “toy shop” into the parking lot and helped stuff presents into car trunks. Roxana Colongo, of Pembroke Pines, said she was moved to tears to help after watching a movie featuring the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program.
Latoya Carey, of Fort Lauderdale, recently lost her job as a driver for a transportation company and has had a rough few weeks keeping afloat and paying bills. She’s excited to see her daughters tear through gifts next week.
“I look forward to seeing their faces on Christmas. They could have had nothing,” she said. “Thank God for these programs.”
- Volunteers organize unwrapped toys at the Salvation Army of Broward County “toy shop” on Friday.
Volunteers organize unwrapped toys at the Salvation Army of Broward County “toy shop” on Friday.
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