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Neighborhood GIFT helps thousands

By Heather Hintze 8:27 PM December 16, 2013

Volunteers, toys still needed for Tuesday event

ANCHORAGE - The Salvation Army and Food Bank of Alaska teamed up to make sure people in need are taken care of during the holiday season.

Hundreds of volunteers were at the Sullivan Arena Monday handing out presents and food for the annual Neighborhood GIFT.

The first people lined up at 7 a.m. and waited in single-digit temperatures until the event started at 1 p.m.

For John Philbrick, it was the only chance to get gifts for his two boys. He got them two Nerf air rifles, he said.

Philbrick lost a leg to diabetes last year and is now on a disability income. Without Neighborhood GIFT, he said, there wouldn’t be much under the tree.

“It helps me with groceries and stuff like that for the holidays,” he said. “I think it’s great they have it here.”

The Food Bank of Alaska also provided turkeys with all the trimmings for Christmas dinner.

Philbrick is one of about 6,000 people expected to turn out for the two-day event. The need could go up by 10 percent this year based on how many people turned out for the Thanksgiving Blessing a few weeks ago, said Executive Director Mike Miller.

“My favorite part is seeing people walk out knowing they’re going to have a holiday that’s just like everyone else’s,” Miller said. “We’re always striving to be like everybody else in some ways. When people are going through economic hard times, they’re not feeling that. They feel like they’re somehow failing. These folks are going to walk out feeling like their family is going to have a holiday just like everybody else.”

It takes hundreds of volunteers to put on this event. Nine-year-old Brandon Ison said he was more than happy to spend the day giving back.

“I’m here to volunteer because my mom loves it and it’s a family tradition and it’s really, really fun,” Ison said.

The Salvation Army collected nearly 12,000 toys. Marketing Director DeAnna Roering said she’s glad the organization is there to help families in need.

“It’s great that we’re able to provide that service, but yes, the demand continues to grow,” Roering said. “That is tough to digest a little bit, but it’s great to know we have a fabulous community that is so willing to give and so generous, especially during the holidays.”

The event still needs toys for kids 0 to 2 and 12 to 14 years old. New, unwrapped toys can be dropped off at any donation bin around town.

Volunteers are still needed for the Tuesday event which is at the Sullivan Arena from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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