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Annual 'Christmas Bureau' helps low-income families

More than 2,500 low-income families in Onondaga County are getting their holiday stockings filled today. Families have been filing through the OnCenter in Syracuse for the Salvation Army’s yearly Christmas Bureau.

Theresa Johnson of Syracuse is unemployed this Christmas and is happy that for the Christmas bureau program that provides gifts and food for families like hers.

"There’s gonna be something Christmas morning,” said Johnson. “I’m out of work, trying to retire, putting in 25 years on my job, and now I’m disabled, and I need a little help. And I appreciate the Salvation Army.”

Families sidle through what amounts to a a massive toy store at the OnCenter, where volunteers help families choose gifts from tables piled high with stuffed animals, sporting goods, and games.  Families must meet specific guidelines in order to be eligible for the giveaway.

The numbers of families participating this year are down a few hundred from last year.  Salvation Army officials aren’t sure if that means the economy is getting better, or people are leaving the area. The one trend Salvation Army spokeswoman Liddy Hintz has noticed is that many of those who signed up for today’s giveaway have jobs.

"People are bringing their pay stubs more than bringing their benefit subsidy sheet  -- which means they’re working, but are low income and they can’t buy extra stuff for their kids,” said Hinz.

Each family gets a book, a toy and a stocking stuffer for every child. They also get a holiday food basket that contains fixings for a holiday dinner, plus extra food to feed children over the school break.  

The thing about the Christmas Bureau that impresses Salvation Army executive director Linda Wright is the hundreds of volunteers who give up their time to help. More than 1,000 volunteers have offered to help this year.

"We’ve had probably more volunteers than every before, and that’s been kind of interesting,” said Wright.

Among those volunteers, members of Syracuse’s 174th Air National Guard Attack Wing, who come every year to help out.