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Salvation Armys Angel Tree donations provide gifts for hundreds of local families
Volunteers help fill wish lists, including plenty of bikes, for families in need
Cars driven by nearly 500 families began lining up at 9 a.m. to receive food and gifts for their “angels” during the Salvation Army’s Angel Trees distribution event held Saturday at the Salvation Army in Gainesville. - photo by ELISE PERKINS

After sitting in a line that circled the block outside of the Salvation Army on Dorsey Street, Josefina Mondragon of Gainesville waited in front of the building Saturday as volunteers raced through the cars, delivering boxes of food and black bags full of gifts to each car.

The families picking up the food and gifts for the children — “angels” from The Salvation Army’s Angel Trees located around Gainesville — were given a number with the application they filled out in October that corresponded with the bags of toys being handed out.

“It’s a blessing to have them,” Mondragon said, who was thankful for not just the toys but the food provided.

“(I) feel excited,” she said as volunteers buzzed by. “My son waits for the Christmas toys.”

Through the Angel Trees program. individuals can “adopt” an Angel, and donate presents from their Christmas list.

Salvation Army Lt. Niurka Peña, and her husband, Lt. Arnaldo Peña, were in charge of Saturday’s distribution event.

“We are really grateful for the community,” Niurka said. “We are really grateful that they come together when there is need in the community and thanks to all of them, some kids this Christmas will have something under the tree, some gift to open. It means a lot.”

This year, nearly 500 families received help from individuals and organizations that helped collect toys. The most popular gifts asked for this year were bicycles, and anything related to the movie “Frozen” for girls.

“Some people don’t realize it because they have never been in the need, and they don’t know what it looks like to need something but it really helps the families,” Niurka said.

Nearly 120 volunteers were running back and forth from cars to the building with rooms full of black bags distinguished only by their numbers.

The program has been helping families in need since the 1980s.

“It’s quite a lot of work but we’ve got a lot of volunteers, and it’s a blessing,” Arnaldo Peña said, adding that some of the volunteers had been there since 6 a.m.

“We see a lot of young people helping here, from the school, I think it’s good for them to see how we help, and how they are helping as well, putting in just a little bit of time here. It’s a way to teach them about it.”

Volunteers like Allison Zafft, and daughter Prielle, of Buford, were back for their fifth year and look forward to being able to give their time.

“We love it, it’s great to give back,” Zafft said. “It’s great though, everyone giving up their time to help others this time of year. It shows you how fortunate we are.”

For more information about the Salvation Army of Gainesville, visit

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