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Families receive some help for the holidays through Salvation Army's annual Christmas Bureau

Today is the day the Salvation Army gets to play Santa Claus. The annual Christmas Bureau gets help from local organizations and volunteers to provide gifts and food for Onondaga County families who can’t afford it themselves.

A little more than 2,500 families will file through the OnCenter in downtown Syracuse Monday, walking out with toys, books, stocking stuffers and enough food for a holiday feast.

Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO
The Salvation Army's annual Christmas Bureau provides gifts and food for families in Onondaga County that would otherwise not be able to purchase items for the holidays.

Capt. John Luby, executive director of the Central New York Region of the Salvation Army, says that number includes more than 6,700 children, a little less than a third of them teenagers.

"The number of families, the number of children has been floating in a fairly steady range, between 2,500 and 3,000, since the enormous peak in ’08 and ’09," Luby said. "We hope one day it’s zero, but it seems a little stuck.”

Luby says the number has dropped significantly compared to a few years ago, when a nationwide recession ravaged Central New York.

“I think there’s some improvement in the economy, and maybe some of the 4,000 families that we helped in ’08 and ’09, perhaps they’re back to work or they’ve moved," Luby explained.

The Bureau has fine tuned this giveaway day down to a science, although Luby says things are changing when it comes to technology and the proof families need to show verifying they fall within proper federal income guidelines..

"People aren’t coming in with 15 sheets of paper," Luby said. "They have it on their phone or we can look it up online through the county’s website, and that’s going to be a changing trend.”

There will be 1,000 volunteers helping families choose presents and shuffling them through the cavernous OnCenter. The Air National Guard handles logistics of the food distribution. Luby says everything is donated and more than 100 schools and businesses help out.

“This is Onondaga County caring for each other," Luby said.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.