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Families line up for Christmas presents at the Voluntary Action Center

Thursday, December 8, 2011 | 6:18 p.m. CST
Shawntay Mitchell, center, laughs with volunteers Bailey Martin and Alex Bagby as they load her car with gifts, including two bikes, during the Voluntary Action Center gift pickup at the Trinity Presbyterian Church on Thursday, Dec. 8. Mitchell was excited to get the bikes, which Santa will bring to her kids.

COLUMBIA — Shakia Dorsey, 25, made a big wish list for Christmas presents: dolls for her four daughters and toy cars for her son, clothes, blankets, a vacuum cleaner and other household necessities.

She didn’t think she would get everything on her list, but she knew what she wanted to do with whatever presents she would receive.

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"I was gonna wait until Christmas and put it under the tree so (the children) are gonna think it came from Santa," Dorsey said.

Dorsey was among the 500 people scheduled to come Thursday to Trinity Presbyterian Church to pick up presents donated through the 28th annual Christmas program of the Voluntary Action Center.

About 1,200 families in Boone County will receive Christmas presents through the program this year, said Ron Schmidt, project director for the organization.

Families could sign up for the program beginning in September. To be eligible, families have to be at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, Schmidt said. For example, an eligible family of four members would have a maximum monthly income of $2,793.75. 

In November, each family was paired with sponsors that included individuals, other families, churches, university departments, student groups and local businesses.

The families wrote wish lists for their sponsors.

“Everything you can imagine,” Schmidt said. “Bikes, underwear, toys, pillows, comforters, winter clothes, cleaning and household products.”

The Voluntary Action Center recommends that every sponsor spend at least $50 for presents per child, give $10 to $15 for food vouchers per family member and buy at least one new gift. The program also allows for gently used items such as clothes and blankets.

"Most of our sponsors do more than that," Schmidt said.

The presents were dropped off at Trinity Presbyterian Church on Monday and Tuesday and picked up on Thursday. Another round will be dropped off next Monday and Tuesday and picked up Dec. 15.

During pickups, families are assisted by volunteers who hand out the presents and help carry them to the parking lot. On Thursday, there were about 35 volunteers helping at the church, said Amelia Cottle, volunteer coordinator.

Larry Barnes was among the volunteers. He has been volunteering for the Christmas program for the past three years.

"I just like when people smile," he said. "Sometimes they cry. They’ll be so happy that they cry."

Other times, people are not satisfied with what they get and complain, Barnes said.

It was not the case for Dorsey. Her family received a cart full of presents – about a dozen packages of different shapes and sizes.

"I see I got a vacuum cleaner," she said, while walking out the church door. 


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