Olga Aviles walked toward the back of a large room full of toys of all kinds and kid-sized shirts, pants, dresses and shoes.
The mother of two was among 662 families who will be shopping there this week for presents to give their young ones at Christmas through the Dalton-Whitfield Sharing is Caring Community Christmas program. Aviles’ 12-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son would still have a Christmas without the program, she said, but their family would have to save up all year for it, deprive them of other things, and give a lot less than the three new toys per child she was allowed at the “store” at the North Georgia Agricultural Fairgrounds on Tuesday.
“It’s a God-sent help,” Aviles said, gratefully. “Whatever I can get is good.”
The program is intended to help families who might otherwise not have much of a Christmas. Participants are all at or below the federal poverty level, and each family had to have one adult caregiver complete at least three classes to be eligible. The one-session classes were on a variety of self-help topics such as parenting skills, cooking, smart money management and helping young children prepare for school. Parents who completed the classes were given an appointment one day this week to shop at the store with a volunteer who helps them find the gifts they’re looking for.
The Salvation Army and several community agencies coordinate the program. Salvation Army social worker Nancy Soto said any leftover donations will be given to other area charities.
Volunteer Teresa Patterson, who works for the Northwest Georgia Healthcare Partnership, followed parent Mary Lu around the store on Tuesday as a “personal shopper” as Lu looked for gifts for her three children.
Lu said this is her second year participating in the program, and she’s grateful because it makes her “able to have gifts for my children because I can’t afford to buy them.” She took classes in cooking, savings and getting her children ready to enroll in school to be eligible to shop.
Parent Alice Sanchez called the program “a big blessing” as she shopped for three children ranging in age from 2 to 13. Are the kids excited about Christmas?
“Oh yes, and we’re thankful for everything,” she said.
Program organizers are seeking more donations. New, unwrapped toys can be donated at the Salvation Army office at 1109 N. Thornton Ave. or at the fairgrounds this week. The Christmas store will be open for pre-approved shoppers again on Thursday from 1 to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and volunteers are needed. For more information on volunteering, call (706) 876-4379 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.