It is like playing Santa Claus but you do not have to wear the beard.
As family services coordinator at Valley Rescue Mission in Columbus, Deana Terwilliger is in charge of the program that gets Christmas toys to families in need.
“We have mothers coming here who are so worried and concerned where their Christmas is going to come from. They say, ‘I just want a good Christmas for my kids.’ They have tears streaming down their face. They hug me so tight I can barely breathe. It is the best thing ever. It is wonderful,” Terwilliger said.
And as a mother of five, ages 3-15, Terwilliger said she understands the worry about being able to provide a good Christmas for your children.
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This holiday season, Valley Rescue Mission helped make Christmas brighter with toys for more than 600 families, more than 1,000 children up to the age of 12.
“The girls love the dolls. We have given out plenty of bicycles and all kinds of balls. We even had some pogo sticks,” Terwilliger said.
This is not something thrown together at the last minute.
She said Valley Rescue Mission accepts donations of new and gently used toys throughout the year.
“People in the community are always bringing us toys along with socks and other items,” Terwilliger said.
As do organizations, churches and businesses. Aflac, 2nd & Charles and Publix were a few mentioned by Valley Rescue Mission Director of Development Mitzi Oxford.
Terwilliger made sure to thank local motorcyclists who filled two Valley Rescue Mission trucks with toys at the annual Toys For Tots Motorcycle Parade.
She said some donors provide money with which bigger items such as bicycles may be purchased.
The underprivileged from throughout the Chattahoochee Valley sign up to get on the list for the toys during a couple of weeks in late September and early October.
Terwilliger said proof of need is required from the families.
Valley Rescue Mission checks with other agencies to see which families might already be on another list. No duplication is allowed.
But there are some families who receive toys even though they did not register in the fall.
For example, a family moving here during the holiday season may still be helped.
“We got a call from a school about someone who had their Christmas stolen. Toys for four children taken,” Terwilliger said.
Another family lost everything in a fire.
“You just have to help,” Terwilliger said.
When Christmas season arrives, those on the list make an appointment to visit the toy store and select items.
Shoppers are not crowded or rushed.
The toys are kept in a warehouse. Come the holiday season, everything is organized on shelves according to gender and age.
“We could not get this done without our volunteers,” Terwilliger said.
One of those, Susan Baker, said the organization of the toys is a challenge but one she cherishes.
“I love it,” said Baker. “To be able to make so many families happy, well, this is just the best.”
Every family gets a board game, a puzzle and a book. The parent is then limited to a certain number of big and small items.
Every child gets items for their stocking including a stuffed animal.
Terwilliger joined the Valley Rescue Mission staff shortly before Christmas in 2016 and the toy store was her first major task.
“It was pretty intense,” she said, smiling.
But giving is what her job is all about at Valley Rescue Mission.
The family service ministry helps people with food, clothing, household goods and, when funding is available, assists with prescriptions and transportation. The amount of food given is dependent on the number of people in the family. Utility assistance is offered as well. The ministry assists victims of fire and also domestic violence victims with furniture when available.
But the toy store is something special.
Terwilliger said it is particularly “rewarding and humbling” to be involved.
“I feel so blessed.”