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Gift programs make Christmas merrier for families

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012, at 3:49 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, at 9:53 a.m.

For Deborah Lamunyon, the timing was just right.

Her Christmas plans had been thrown for a loop when a fuse on her husband’s car, their only vehicle, blew out Wednesday on the drive to Dillons.

With her mother, Janet, she went to the old Big Dog Motorcycle building on Douglas Avenue for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree distribution Thursday to pick up Christmas gifts for her family.

“I think it’s a great thing that they do this,” Janet Lamunyon said. “I have 12 grandchildren and I couldn’t do nothing for none of them this year. I’m glad someone is helping them out.”

The event, which has been put on by the Salvation Army since 1979, relies on the community to help provide a Christmas for those who can’t. This year it is expected to serve more than 3,600 families, including at least 9,400 children.

“We want to make sure no kids are missed,” said Maj. Douglas Rowland, the Wichita city commander of the Salvation Army. “It’s really become a community project. You’re talking about an awful lot of kids.”

For the past month or so, Angel Trees have been on display in various public locations such as Towne East and Towne West malls. Every “angel” on the tree had a request for a gift costing around $20 on it. People bought those gifts and brought them to the Salvation Army for distribution day.

“It’s quite a project trying to coordinate all this, but our staff has been here for years and they do a great job,” Rowland said.

Rowland said the Salvation Army chooses not to wrap the gifts so they can be more personal when the children receive them on Christmas.

“We want Mom and Dad to do it, so it doesn’t seem like it’s coming from the Salvation Army,” Rowland said.

The scene was hectic but under control at the warehouse Thursday, packed with the bustle of gift recipients and just as many volunteers. Rowland said the event draws volunteers from all different environments, from offices to schools to individuals.

“You feel like you’re making a difference in people’s lives when you think about the presents the children will be receiving on Christmas morning,” volunteer Ami Larrea said. “It doesn’t cost anything – you just come out and feel great afterward.”

The Salvation Army distribution was not the only one of its kind in town, as members of the Greater Pentecostal Church of God in Christ were on hand to distribute a toy to every student of Spaght Elementary School on Thursday.

Pastor Herman Hicks said that while the church has been sponsoring this event for seven years, the school has recently outgrown the church’s capabilities, with a student population of 555.

“You want to do well for everyone but we had to ask for help from two other churches this year to get all the toys,” Hicks said. “There is a great need in the community.”

Hicks said the toys, which are donated by around 400 members of his church, are a way to make sure the children have a good Christmas in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy.

“This is a really good way to appreciate the beauty of childhood in spite of difficult times in our country,” Hicks said.

Hicks said the church will find other ways to support Spaght or other schools in the future.

Meanwhile, back at the Big Dog building, Deborah Lamunyon left with her feet on the ground – and loaded down with gifts for 1-year-old Karrie and her second daughter due in April.

“I think it’s good, with parents that are already struggling with the economy,” Lamunyon said. “You can at least have some clothes and some toys.”

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