The holiday season can be very difficult for families struggling to make ends meet. Purchasing Christmas dinner and gifts for the kids just isn’t in the budget for some families.


That’s where the community GIFT event comes in. It’s a partnership between the Salvation Army, the Food Bank of Alaska and a number of local churches and organizations.


Parents lined up outside the Sullivan Arena Tuesday, waiting for the doors to open at noon. Inside, they found tables covered in toys and everything they’d need to have a big holiday meal for their families.


Donors gave 10,000 toys for the GIFT event. Salvation Army Captain Rio Ray said it’s wonderful to think of all the children who will have their holiday brightened simply by having something under the tree.


“Sometimes people think, ‘well, does a child really need a toy?’ I think a child does because it gives them hope, it gives them joy, it helps them dream and really think of a brighter future,” Ray said. “For families that are trapped in poverty, this is a gift to them as well as to their children.”


Volunteer Brenda Bratley was watching over the toys for kids ages 0-2. She says most of the parents know exactly what their children are wishing for this Christmas, and are so thankful when they find it.


“Excitement, happiness, joy — Can’t wait to see their face when they get it,” Bratley said. “You realize what the Christmas spirit really is, what it really means. It’s the light in those little kids’ eyes, happiness in the parent’s faces knowing they can give their kids Christmas. That’s what matters.”


Travis Dean was one of those parents. He was looking for gifts for his three daughters and ended up choosing a plush teddy bear for his youngest.


“She likes to cuddle a lot with things so I saw that bear and figured that she would love it,” Dean said. “She won’t let go of it. She’ll hug it and probably end up going to sleep with it.”


After finding just the right gifts, the families picked up a Christmas dinner with turkey and all the fixings. The food came from a number of sources, including grants and donations. There was enough food to feed 4,000 families.


“The holidays are economically stressful enough for the rest of us, so this is an opportunity to really provide some help to the folks who otherwise wouldn’t have the holiday meal that you and I are accustomed to,” said Michael Miller, executive director for the Food Bank of Alaska.


The holiday meal giveaway wasn’t just for families. Miller says anyone who needs a hand with a special meal this Christmas can swing by and pick one up.


More than 500 volunteers over two days will help the GIFT event move smoothly. It runs from noon until 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 16.


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