The Salvation Army helps 760 families during first day of holiday distribution

Photos by Dean Humphrey—Volunteer BJ Sunnarborg fills a toy bag for a family Tuesday during The Salvation Army holiday toy and food distribution at the Colorado National Guard Armory on D Road. Salvation Army Capt. Dan Wilson stands amid 2,400 boxes of canned and nonperishable food that will be given to families.

“I need a doll that really cries,” one volunteer said, scanning a pile of donated dolls any girl would adore, then locating one that bawls when her soft belly is pushed.

“Oh, Dora. Doras are hard to find,” another volunteer confided, placing a Dora the Explorer doll inside a gift bag.

The scene at the Colorado National Guard Armory was more like a sprawling Santa’s workshop Tuesday than a mechanics bay for military vehicles. Dozens of volunteers, working as hard as Santa’s elves zoomed around, gathering presents and handing them over to hundreds of grateful families.

“I had an old lady that started crying,” a volunteer named Dale said. “It almost made me cry.”

Nearly 760 local families left with at least 30 pounds of food, new clothing and a large bag brimming with gifts, during the first day of The Salvation Army holiday toy and food distribution. A total of 1,700 families will be served this year by the community-oriented drive, a number that tops drives in Denver, Salvation Army Capt. Terrie Wilson said.

“There is some really cool stuff that has come through,” she said. “Every little bit helps.”

Donations from community groups and individuals poured in this year, making up for a gap after Toys for Tots was discontinued in the area, Wilson said.

Instead of recipients picking out toys for their children, volunteers and workers with The Salvation Army compiled gift bags according to wish lists. This process was much easier on workers, who exclaimed how relatively “sane” the process seemed to be this year. It also had the unintended benefit of matching gifts with children. For example, one man came to The Salvation Army with a seemingly impossible list for his three children. Two of his boys wanted a Nintendo DS, and another wanted a bicycle. Wilson said she was able to pass those donations on to the man. If those gifts were mixed into the milieu to be picked up by recipients, they would have been snatched up immediately and possibly not have made it into the hands of the neediest family.

“He was overwhelmed,” Wilson said. “He was like, ‘This is all for me?’ “

In addition to toys, 2,400 boxes filled with canned and nonperishable food were to be distributed to families. A pallet with sacks of potatoes, frozen turkeys and cases of soda was available to people who drove up to receive the assistance.

The Salvation Army has persevered this holiday season despite suffering a setback when the ceiling of one of its thrift stores collapsed in late November. Wilson said a truss slipped.

The building has been deemed safe to renovate, and the agency plans to also renovate the outside of the building at 1038 Ute Ave. It also is close to securing a contract to open a thrift store in Clifton, Wilson said.

With the Ute Avenue store out of operation at the time, employees were tasked with working on the distribution drive. That also helped the work go more smoothly on preparations, which started weeks ago. Looking around, Wilson wondered whether the space was big enough to contain all the donations.

“Maybe we’ve even outgrown the armory,” she said.


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