ORLANDO, Fla. - The finishing touches are now complete: Toys have been sorted, gift bags have been stuffed, teddy bears are ready to be hugged, stockings are filled with goodies, and they're all set to be carried away Wednesday.
Thanks to a team of volunteers excited to serve as Santa's helpers, Orlando-area families will leave distribution day with bags full of gifts for their loved ones to wake up to on Christmas morning.
Brenda Ridgewell is one of dozens volunteering with the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program to make those miracles happen.
"People will have peace of mind that they've got something for their child to have for Christmas. They don't have to worry about that. To know the children, you know, are gonna be happy because of the effort you put in and the community has put in," Ridgewell said.
It isn't just those volunteers working to make the happiness happen, though. Members of the Central Florida community came together when News 6 and the Salvation Army called on them to spread the holiday spirit, lending a helping hand to families that can't afford those special gift on their child's Christmas list.
"They bring in their donations and you bring them here and you sort them out and you see how many kids are gonna benefit from the generosity of the community and how much love and good news there is out there," Ridgewell said.
From bicycles in all sizes and colors, to baby dolls and toys for every age, the distribution center was bursting with cheer before families came to collect the items.
"They get to meet the volunteers with their toys, they get to get their stockings and their bears, and so they can wrap their gifts for their children for Christmas," Capt. Jessie Chapman, of the Salvation Army, said.
This year, there was a special twist to the event. The Angel Tree program is also bringing smiles to 500 seniors, in addition to the ones it's putting on the faces of 3,500 children from the Orlando area.
Chapman said it's about more than just the presents.
"It's needed because we don't want children to wake up on Christmas morning with nothing under the tree, and we know that children in need have the same wants and desires as other children," Chapman said. "This is more than just Christmas gifts. We give them information that can help their children, offer free character building throughout the year. Free music classes that they can receive."
For the Salvation Army, it's not just about smiles on Christmas -- it's about smiles year-round, according to Chapman.
"Other organizations are actually coming in and sharing information because, since we have these families coming here, lets show that this is a community that we can even give more," Chapman said.
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