The idea of Christmas elves, or Santa’s little helpers, might be make believe, but some of the volunteers at The Salvation Army fit the bill.
For the month of December, men and women assemble and sort bicycles and other toys in preparation for the Angel Tree Distribution right before Christmas. Angel Tree is a way the Army provides gifts for families in need. John Toups, 75, and Dave Williams, 81, both of Tyler, have spearheaded the bicycle and large toy effort for many years.
They got involved because of their wives, who are a part of The Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary.
On Tuesday, the men worked sorting through boxes of tricycles and more to determine which family was going to receive which gift this year.
The smell of rubber in the building where they worked was potent, a result of the many bicycles inside the facility.
The men, both Army veterans, have perfected their process. Toups and Williams have a master list of all the families that requested gifts and they tag the bicycles to make sure they are matched with the appropriate family.
The bikes will go to children of various ages from as young as 1 to as old as 20 in the case of those with special needs.
Although the recipients’ ages differ, their situations are similar. They all come from families that could not afford to buy Christmas gifts this year.
It’s the joy of giving to people in need that makes the work worthwhile for the volunteers.
“Seeing the smile on the kids face for one,” Toups said of the reward he gets for his work. Williams said much the same.
“The distribution when they come load the bike in and the look on their face,” he said.
Although these men lead the effort for the bicycles and big toys, other organizations contribute as well.
Chantel Millin, the Army’s community and corporate relations coordinator, said at least a couple thousand people volunteer to help The Salvation Army each year, serving in a variety of ways.
“The help of the volunteers is priceless really because they allow us to take the funds that might have to go toward incomes and other sources like payroll … and allow us to pay that back toward the programs,” she said.
Ms. Millin said 87 cents of every dollar The Salvation Army of Tyler receives goes back into the programs. If it weren’t for the volunteers though, that number would probably be much lower, she said.