Kim Heyes didn’t ask for presents this year. Instead, she wished for her children to have a good Christmas.
With the help of Columbia’s Voluntary Action Center, Heyes is getting her wish.
The center has coordinated a Christmas Baskets Program for the past 20 years, said director Cindy Mustard. It finds sponsors to donate gifts and food to families in need, she said.
On Thursday, volunteers helped hand out the baskets at the Trinity Presbyterian Church.
Heyes stood in the parking lot and watched over-flowing boxes of gift-wrapped presents being loaded into the trunk of her car.
She does not know what is in the ribbon-trimmed gift boxes, but Heyes said that without the help of the VAC she would not have been able to provide her children with the type of gifts the center hands out.
Heyes’ five children, who range in age from 3 to 12, wrote letters to Santa asking for movies, books and bicycles.
Her family is one of more than 300 that received a Christmas basket from the action center Thursday. In total, the center expects to hand out gifts to 1,176 families by the end of next week.
Families registered for the program and placed gift requests in October. Sponsors did not have to purchase the requested items, Mustard said, but they did need to buy at least one gift for each family member.
The action center also conducted background checks during registration. Participants were eligible for the program if they met federal poverty guidelines and resided in Boone County, Mustard said.
A family of four meets the criteria if its income is less than $18,400, according to the 2003 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services poverty guidelines.
There is not an age restriction for program, Mustard said.
“We look at the whole, total family, because everyone needs a little Christmas, and it doesn’t stop at age 12,” Mustard said.
Sherrie Massey, 38, also came to pick up her gifts Thursday. She will not be spending Christmas with her family this year and is thankful for the program, she said.
“I didn’t know they helped people on disability,” she said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have a Christmas.”
The center tries to match sponsors with similar families. Families with young children usually like to buy presents for another family with children, Mustard said.
Families, businesses, classrooms and individuals sponsored this year’s Christmas baskets.
“The community gets more and more generous each year,” Mustard said.