ORLANDO, Fla. – Inside an office building in downtown Orlando, volunteers with the Salvation Army line up to help families navigate through a maze of Christmas bears, stockings filled with toys and bags full of clothes, dolls and bikes all so those in need can have a merry Christmas.
The Captains who run Angel Tree Distribution Day say none of this would be possible without the hundreds of volunteers who chose to donate their time to help hand out all the gifts.
Salvation Army Captain Jessie Chapman helps to run the local chapter alongside her husband.
[WHAT A VIEW: Check out the 360-degree view below of Angel Tree Distribution Day]
“My favorite part is seeing them willing to do anything,” Chapman said. “We have volunteers that come in and get to help a family get Christmas. But we still need volunteers that help clean the bathroom, or move chairs for us -- and they’re willing to do anything.”
Janine Gomez, of Winter Park, is one of the almost 400 volunteers who showed up at The Joy Center to make sure Central Florida seniors and families have a Merry Christmas.
From the sparkle in her eyes, to the sparkle of her mini mouse headband, she truly exemplifies the magic of the season and shows why giving gifts to those in need can be the greatest gift of all.
“I get really excited about it,” Gomez said. “My parents brought us up to believe everyone has a story. Me myself, I’m just full of gratitude for the blessings that I have.”
Gomez says being able to help families shop for their children brings her the most joy of all.
"It makes me feel good to know they're feeling good," Gomez said. "I think just that little bit that we can do to make the world a better place, that's what it is all about."
Keeping it running smoothly is Chapman and her husband. They work alongside their volunteers to spread the joy of Christmas as they provide gifts to more than 1,000 seniors and 3,000 children this year.
For the Chapmans, this is not a job - it's a calling.
“This is definitely a calling,” Chapman said. “My staff has worked from 9 in the morning until 8 at night but they are like, ‘We’re going to get this done.’”
Chapman said coming from a big family, she knows just how special getting a gift can be.
“I’m a child of seven - and I don’t have expectations,” Chapman said. “Because as a child, I couldn’t afford very much. But we had joy in our heart, we had love. And as I grew older I discovered that was more valuable than gifts.”
Chapman said seeing the smiles and the hugs reminds her of the difference this will make in the life of a family in need.
She says she knows because she was once that child who didn't receive much at Christmas.
"We got new clothes twice a year, at Christmas and an Easter," Chapman said. "So I want someone else to see the joy of receiving something. And my motivation is for the love of God."
That self-professed love of God is what keeps Chapman motivated to handle every little problem, every little issue that pops up as she helps guide the families and volunteers during distribution day and beyond. She said she remembers when a neighbor brought gifts to them one Christmas and what it meant to her.
“One year, one of our neighbors knew we were in need, and they brought stuffed animals to our house,” Chapman said. “And that was my Christmas was a stuffed animal and to know that I can give that to a child, you know, I know what it did for my heart. And I hope that we see that in the children that we help this year.”