Tiffany is 38, has three children, and was practically running Wednesday morning as she picked up toys from the Salvation Army’s Christmas Bureau on East Arrowood Road.
She explained that she needed to be somewhere else fast – or rather, she was supposed to be somewhere else.
“I snuck in from work,” said Tiffany, breathlessly. “I’m a cashier at a convenience store and I’m on my break. I got to get back before my boss finds out.”
Taking the morning off was impossible, she said, because the family can’t afford it. So Tiffany improvised a little and prayed a lot.
“When I say we’re going the extra mile to make ends met, I’m talking about my 11-year-old son raking leaves on weekends to make money. It’s that tough,” she said. “Without this program, I’m not sure what kind of Christmas it would be at our house.”
Salvation Army officials predict more than 6,500 families like Tiffany’s will visit the Christmas Center in coming days, at a rate of 200 per hour. That makes it one of the biggest acts of community goodwill in the Southeast.
Most of the households are headed by single parents working low-wage jobs, but many are also headed by grandmothers and great-grandmothers living on fixed incomes.
In all, 12,200 children age 12 and younger will receive presents, with the majority of those gifts provided by local donors who picked names off Angel Trees. In cases where children weren’t picked, toys are purchased in part with money donated to the Empty Stocking Fund.
This year, more than one-third of the children went un-adopted: 4,453. That is leaving Salvation Army staff scrambling at the last minute to fill bags with whatever is on hand. The biggest need, officials say, is toys for ages 9 to 12, including board games, craft kits, nail polish kits, basketballs, purses, watches, cologne and perfume. Donations can be brought 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to the center, which is in a former Walmart building at 801 E. Arrowood Road.
“Will we have enough toys? I don’t know. I never know, but we have our game face on,” said Lindsay Duncan, who directs holiday programs for the Salvation Army. “There have been times when we had no idea how we were going to fill all the requests, and then I’ll turn around and people be bringing bags of stuff through the doors. It’s pretty incredible.”
Kids aren’t the only ones getting goodies. The agency’s Silver Bell program allows donors to adopt low-income elderly people, and more than 1,400 sign up this year, nearly double last year’s numbers.
Not surprisingly, they were the ones not afraid to get up early and stand in line an hour before the Christmas Bureau opened Wednesday.
Leading the pack were sisters Lula Randolph, 84, and Shirley White, 66, both of whom had high expectations for shoes, Liz Taylor perfume and an electric blanket. The pair are widows living on fixed incomes, and they consider themselves lucky “just to be out of the house and standing up.”
“This is a big deal for us,” said White, who is a grandmother. “By the time we pay all our bills, we’re lucky to have $25 left. Our idea of a celebration is the buffet at Golden Corral and all the apple pie you can eat.”