Last week, The Oklahoman once again allowed me to treat myself to what undoubtedly will be my best Christmas gift this year — as it has been for six Christmases now.
I got to play Santa at the old J.C. Penney store in Crossroads Mall, helping distribute toys donated through the Salvation Army's Angel Tree project to 1,306 needy families. Parents came through every 15 minutes throughout Thursday and Friday to pick up their presents and, thanks to Feed The Children, a Christmas ham and other foodstuffs.
Bill Clark, who teaches environmental sciences at Rose State College, and I were paired as “runners” — using a shopping cart to retrieve bags of toys from large, numbered cardboard boxes that corresponded to numbers on recipients' letters, and then wheel the gifts to their cars.
Clark said he welcomes the opportunity to volunteer each year as a way to give back for the blessings he feels he's received. We had a blast together, just wishing parents “Merry Christmas” over and over — never mind the bone-chilling wind gusts.
Lois Green, volunteer coordinator for the Salvation Army, said many of her some 300 distribution volunteers came from generous employers, including Chesapeake Energy Corp., Cox Communications, Tinker Air Force Base, the Young Lawyers Association and OGE.
Enogex volunteer Paul Taylor said it warms his heart to interact with and help people in need, while Matt Wilkinson said he was “hooked” on the fun after his first year of volunteering last year. “Where else do you get to go shopping and not spend any money?” he said, as he rolled his cart out of sight.
“I just had a lady whose five kids all got bikes, and she stood there overwhelmed in tears,” said Debbie Hernandez, her candy cane earrings dangling. “That's why I'm here,” she said.
For their part, Cox employees James Steele and Mitchell Hayes help Salvation Army Women's Auxiliary member Sharron Ashton manage the mountains of 30-inch-by-30-inch boxes required for the massive toys distribution, including immediately breaking down and whisking away the emptied ones so they can be used for several years to come.
Christmas 2013 will be here before we know it. Plan now to join me in giving ourselves the best present possible: the gift of giving. To volunteer, contact The Salvation Army, 311 SW 5, at 246-1101 or www.salvationarmyokcac.org. If you're unable to give time, financial gifts also can be made to The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 2095, Oklahoma City, OK 73101.