Sixteen-year-old Mary Laing Holland carried bag after bag of toys on Friday morning.
Holland, a student at Houston Academy, served as a volunteer at the Salvation Army Angel Tree Distribution Day held on the National Peanut Festival grounds.
Holland, who volunteered for the fifth year, came with her younger sister to help pass out toys to the families.
“This is one of the few things I can do to help out for Christmas,” Holland said.
Salvation Army Maj. Cheryl Phillips said they provided for 1,661 children and more than 1,800 families as part of Angel Tree Distribution Day.
Phillips said they served a tri-county area which includes Geneva, Henry and Houston counties. Phillips said there were more than 200 additional families that were provided this year when compared to last year.
Phillips said most children, who ranged from ages 0 to 12, received both toys and clothing.
Phillips said the volunteers helped with a variety of duties from serving as greeters to helping people carry their bags of toys and in some cases a bicycle to their vehicle.
“I just want to give a huge thank you to the people of the Wiregrass for making this a success,” Phillips said. “We couldn’t do this without our volunteers. The volunteers make it happen.”
Andy Thomas, of Dothan, who wore a Salvation Army stocking cap, helped hand out gifts with his two sons, 9-year-old Levi and 12-year-old Whit.
“I think it’s good for the boys. It helps them to see there are folks out there that are less fortunate,” Thomas said. “This is our sixth year. We just like coming out and serving the community.”
Jennifer Moseley, of Wicksburg, volunteered to help pass out toys with her husband, Phil, and 14-year-old son, Patric, with the Salvation Army for the first time on Friday.
“I had helped count kettles, and I thought it was a great opportunity to come out and help here,” Moseley said. “Christmas time is a great time to give back.”
Phillips said some of the families received food baskets only.
“We helped a lot of people with food baskets that were senior citizens or disabled,” Phillips said.
Bill Shealy, of Dothan, who serves as a member of the Salvation Army Advisory Board, worked Friday with several other volunteers to fill the food boxes for the families.
Shealy said the boxes came with several canned goods, green beans, corn, soup, stuffing, instant potatoes, bread, cake and chicken.
“There are so many more people in need,” Shealy said. “Last year we made up about 1,600 food boxes and this year we made about 1,900 boxes.”
Shealy said he got to the peanut festival grounds around 6:15 a.m. Friday and people started lining up outside to collect their gifts at 6:30 a.m., even though the distribution didn’t start until 8:30 a.m.
“It’s really a good way to help other people, especially this time of year, and at least it makes the Christmas season a little better for some people,” Shealy said.
Toy for Tots
Also on Friday, but at the old Air National Guard Armory near Westgate Park, Mohamed Bouhloui, a sergeant major of the German Army Liaison Staff at Fort Rucker, joined over two dozen other volunteers as they helped give out toys with the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program.
Mike Walton, the coordinator of the Wiregrass Marine Corps League 732, said they provided for 2,159 children and 912 families through the 2012 Toys for Tots program. Walton said they serve a five-county area, which includes Coffee, Dale, Geneva, Henry and Houston counties.
Bouhloui said he enjoyed seeing people smile as they picked up the toys for their families.
“It’s to give something back. I love to support what they do here. It feels good to do something for the community,” said Bouhloui, a volunteer who helped hand out toys. “I like this kind of tradition. As a foreigner from Germany, I’m really impressed.”
Walton said about 30 volunteers helped give away the toys to families picking them up at the old armory.
Walton said it’s the league’s seventh year collecting and giving away toys to the community. He said the Marine Corps reserve has been doing the Toys for Tots program since 1947.
“This is to create a Christmas for the parents who can’t afford a Christmas through no fault of their own,” Walton said. “This is for the children. Not always are they going to get everything they want, but they’re getting something to put under the tree.”
Walton said they gave away more than 150 bicycles to families, along with a variety of other toys, which included games, Barbie, toy military vehicles, building blocks and basketballs.
“We’re like some 269 kids over last year, and 27 families,” Walton said. “The need is there not only for Christmas, but all the time.”