Manatee organization distributes boxes of toys to 2,200 needy children

vmannix@bradenton.comDecember 20, 2013 

MANATEE

There were no gifts underneath the Christmas tree at the Medrano household when Mom and three daughters left home Thursday morning.

Ah, but Thursday night was going to be different.

There would be so many presents, it would look like Santa had come early -- with a little assist from the Salvation Army Angel Tree program, that is.

Geraldine Medrano and her daughters, Angelique, 3, Jaritzy, 2, and Natalie, 6 months, were among the first of 800 needy families who arrived at the Salvation Army Worship Center on State Road 70 to pick up large boxes filled with toys, courtesy of a generous community.

As the last toys were picked up by 4 p.m., 2,200 children will be getting a merrier Christmas than they expected.

Such as the Medranos.

"It's exciting for them," their mom said, pushing a stroller as the other two wide-eyed daughters scanned row upon row of toys, wondering which held theirs. "With six children, we don't have money to be spending on gifts, so this means so much in a lot of ways. It would be bad without this."

Her words resonated with Salvation Army officials and volunteers who helped with Thursday's Angel Tree Program distribution.

Christine Smith, especially.

"You look at any of the children wandering around and you see joy," said the organization's director of development. "They see that teddy bear, that Barbie doll, that bag of gifts it's absolute joy. So we know everything we struggled through this year was absolutely worth it for that one little happy face."

Jenny Boothby appreciated the sentiment.

Her family was among volunteers who helped distribute boxes of precious Christmas gifts.

"This is what it's about during the Christmas season -- doing something for someone else, especially underprivileged children who need toys," the Georgia Tech senior said. "Some of them are getting more than I got as a kid, so good for them!"

The Angel Tree program was a challenge this year.

The community picked up about 1,000 angels to sponsor families in the regular campaign. That left 1,200 that were filled by other community members responding to the Salvation Army's "Forgotten Angels" toy drive in the last few weeks.

The organization supplemented the rest, spending roughly $20,000, according to Smith.

"This is a donor-supported program and we've had years where we didn't need to spend a dime," she said. "It's been a struggle and it isn't just us. A lot of nonprofits are feeling it."

That Thanksgiving was late, eliminating five days from Christmas shopping was one culprit.

Another was more people are doing their Christmas shopping online, which is a double whammy to Salvation Army holiday funds.

"They are not shopping at the store for toys to donate and they're not donating to the kettles, either," Smith said.

Presently, kettle donations are at $161,000, well short of the usual $250,000 on a good year.

Nevertheless, Smith's heart was gladdened by the fruits of Bradenton's benevolence surrounding her in the gymnasium.

"I'm humbled to see the generosity of our donors," she said. "I have no doubt they went and picked out toys like they were buying for their own kids or grandkids. We know these families are grateful for everything we're able to do for them."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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