Debbie Gwinn doesnt get to see the childrens faces light up when they spot their Christmas presents.
But the 60-year-old library assistant knows shes played a big role in putting smiles on the faces of kids from low-income families during the holidays.
Gwinn is one of 2,500 volunteers who help with the Salvation Armys Christmas Bureau. She donates her time putting together bags of toys and stuffing stockings for children who might not otherwise have any presents under the Christmas tree.
Nearly 14,000 needy children will get toys and stockings this Christmas. Some also will get clothes.
I just love the spirit of Christmas, says Gwinn, whose two children are now grown. I believe children should be delighted on Christmas Day.
When Gwinn first learned about the Salvation Armys Christmas Bureau 15 years ago, she knew she had to be a part of it. Shes been volunteering there ever since.
Gwinn calls it a mission.
I get to help needy children and families in our community, she says. Its exhilarating, gratifying and rewarding.
And she adds: Its just downright fun.
The Christmas Bureau, funded in part by the Observers Empty Stocking Fund, buys toys, food, clothing and gift cards for low-income families. Last year, the newspapers readers contributed nearly $270,000 to the fund. So far this year, the fund has raised more than $240,000.
Gwinn has worked one day a week at the Christmas Bureau since October. Shes helped register children who will get free toys. Shes sorted through the toys. Shes filled plastic bags with toys. And shes checked and double-checked to make sure the bags of toys had been properly filled.
Its kind of like a giant puzzle, Gwinn says. There are lots of different pieces that need to all come together to make it possible for children to receive their presents.
Its a lot of work, she adds. But its a lot of fun the teamwork and good-hearted people that Im working with. And its fun knowing that youre going to provide joy to these children whose families are unable to provide for them.
Sarah Rebert, the Christmas Bureaus volunteer coordinator, praised Gwinns willingness to take on whatever task shes assigned.
Shell do whatever we ask, Rebert said. She helps with our greatest needs. Shes willing to do all the work to make Christmas a joy for these children.
For Gwinn, its vital for children and families to experience joy during the holidays.
Im absolutely passionate about the Christmas Bureau and what it offers families and children in our community, she says. The whole experience is heartwarming because we see the outpouring of generosity by the community. Its the spirit of the holiday season the gift of giving and lending a helping hand.
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