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Salvation Army makes Christmas wishes come true

Kayla Kropifko, left, chooses a set of blocks for her 2-year-old while Gregory Schlichting, Salvation Army volunteer, helps her check off gift items Wednesday at First Covenant Church in Willmar. Briana Sanchez / Tribune1 / 5
Palmira Gonzalez looks at outfits for her daughter Wednesday at the first day of the Salvation Army Toy Shop at First Covenant Church in Willmar. Briana Sanchez / Tribune2 / 5
Volunteer Victor Garcia, left, assists Palmira Gonzalez at the Salvation Army Toy Shop on Wednesday at First Covenant Church in Willmar. Briana Sanchez / Tribune3 / 5
Salvation Army Auxiliary Captain Linda Faye Jones talks Wednesday about the reason for providing a toy drive to people in the community who need the assistance. Two days of the Toy Shop were held at First Covenant Church in Willmar. Briana Sanchez / Tribune4 / 5
he Salvation Army Toy Shop was Wednesday and Thursday at First Covenant Church in Willmar. There were roughly 30 volunteers helping people choose their Christmas presents. One more opportunity remains Dec. 20 at the Salvation Army office. Briana Sanchez / Tribune5 / 5

WILLMAR — Santa Claus made an early stop this week in Willmar, as the Salvation Army opened its annual Toy Shop, this year at First Covenant Church.

"This is the community coming together, saying we love the children of this community," Salvation Army Auxiliary Captain Linda Faye Jones said.

The shop was open Wednesday and Thursday for parents to come in and choose gifts for their children. With the help of volunteers from local businesses, churches and organizations, parents could pick three items per child, from the thousands of toys and gifts weighing down the tables in the church gymnasium.

"If you watch the bags going out, they're full," Jones said.

So far this year there are 800 children registered to receive gifts through the toy shop. Families begin signing up to take part in the Toy Shop in early November. The program is available to all families who are dealing with some sort of crisis. This year that includes families who were affected by the floods in August.

"We try to serve anyone who is having problems," Jones said.

For those families who might have missed signing up for the toy shop, there is still an opportunity. From 8:45 a.m to 12 p.m. Dec. 20, at the Salvation Army office located at 521 Fourth St. S.W. in Willmar, a smaller version of the Toy Shop will be available. Families interested in participating can contact the Salvation Army for more information at 320-235-2033.

Each child, from infant to 17, also receives a book, stocking stuffer and a bag of holiday goodies. The family as a whole is also gifted a food voucher along with some family fun.

"Each family gets a puzzle and a game," Jones said.

Jones said the Salvation Army wants families to feel empowered and leave the shop happy. Also, allowing parents to choose the gifts for their children makes sure the toys are appropriate for each individual.

"This empowers the parents to choose what they need. They know their child better than we do. That helps lift their spirits," Jones said.

The thousands of toys were donated to the Salvation Army through various programs and toy drives, including Toys for Tots and the Stuff the Ambulance Toy Drive held earlier this month. Programs such as angel tags and adopt-a-family also help the Salvation Army Toy Shop.

"They bring gifts to us," Jones said.

Taking part in the toy shop is also beneficial for the volunteers, as it gives them a chance to help their neighbors.

"We want to make sure the kids are happy and have a good time," volunteer Jill Zimmer said.

During the two days this week the Toy Shop was open at First Covenant Church, volunteers worked in shifts to sign in participants, help people pick up gifts and keeping the tables filled with toys.

"We are all part of the same family. It is another way of sharing and being the hands of Christ," volunteer Nyla Gieseke said.

In addition to the Toy Shop, the Willmar Salvation Army is also busy with its annual bell ringing campaign. The frigid and snowy weather has had an impact on the number of volunteer bell ringers available and Jones is still looking for more.

"For us, Christmas time is the busiest time and also when we raise the funds for next year," Jones said.

The volunteers are instrumental in helping the Salvation Army achieve its overall mission of serving anyone who needs help with no discrimination.

"We appreciate them and their support. God is in control," Jones said.