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Salvation Army's Christmas Bureau distribution back in-person this year, but with changes

Salvation Army
Some of the toys available at this year's Salvation Army Christmas Bureau distribution

The Salvation Army’s annual Christmas Bureau is almost back to normal this holiday season. The agency is going back to an in-person holiday gifts and food giveaway for the needy of the community.

Last year, the pandemic forced the Salvation Army to pivot from an in-person giveaway to a drive-through event. And that option was still on the table at one point this fall as the delta variant swept through Onondaga County. But Salvation Army spokesperson Gina Lazara said this year the giveaway is back at the Oncenter in Syracuse.

"We worked with the county and guidance from the health department and they feel we are able to pull this off in person, so that’s what we’re gonna do,” Lazara said.

There will be changes at this year’s event. There will be about 60% fewer volunteers guiding eligible family members through the maze of tables piled high with toys and books. There will be no stuffed animals or stocking stuffers and the layout will be modified so there’s more room between tables. Masks are required for everyone, and Lazara says there is one other first, meant to keep the crowds down.

"We’ve given time slots for the first time ever,” she said. “So instead of everyone coming all at once and getting in line to get their favorite gifts, we’ve given registered families time slots."

The Salvation Army is also asking only one person from each family to come, and to not bring children.

“Usually we say you can bring the whole family with you. This year we’re asking one person from the household to come, so instead of 10,000 people there will only be 2,500 hundred people throughout the day,” Lazara said.

Registration for families that meet the income eligibility has already started. The giveaway is scheduled for December 15.