GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It may seem like an unlikely location for a pop-up Santa’s Workshop but that’s exactly what the Grand Rapids Fire Department’s training facility on S. Division became on Tuesday — a North Pole in Grand Rapids.
“It’s a natural thing for us to be able to assist with other organizations that are doing great things for our community,” GRFD Chief John Lehman said. “We love those opportunities where we’re able to help and take someone else’s emergency and make it a little easier to handle.”
By all accounts, this year was an emergency for the Salvation Army Kent County. The need they’ve seen across West Michigan has been enormous. As of Tuesday, 2,129 households had signed up for Christmas assistance. That’s 47% increase from a year ago. Of the nearly 8,800 people they’ll help this year, 4,900+ of them are children.
“I love seeing everything come together. I love to see the folks, even standing in line, are just so joyous and there’s just a good spirit about it,” Salvation Army Major Tim Meyer said. “I’m so thankful that we are trusted by the public to give to folks. We offer everything from outside resources to prayer for folks who come through our line.”
And while many will walk away with an extra prayer and more information about what the Salvation Army offers, all will be given the relief the Angel Tree Toy Drive offers to families in need — gifts under the tree on Christmas morning.
“It helps me feel better, as a mother, as a parent. Because even if I can’t go out and get them toys, I can come here and shop and look around,” one mother told News 8. “I always gotta think that there’s someone in a worse situation, someone that doesn’t have different programs like this or access throughout the holidays to help them out. It’s a blessing.”
That mother was shopping for her three babies. She says being a single mom and struggling to maintain work can make the holidays especially tough.
“It’s amazing because growing up, it was kind of hard for me and my family,” she said. “Just to see the reaction on my kid’s face, it’s amazing. It makes me feel like the best mom in the world.”
Thousands of parents just like her will make their way through the two-day toy distribution event. They’ll pick out one board game, one book, stocking stuffers and at least one large and small toy for each child. And new this year, thanks to local 4H organizations, each family was eligible to take home a pound of meat for a Christmas dinner.
“It’s hard to describe unless you’re here. Even standing in line, there is so much joy on their faces because they know they’re going to be able to give something to their family that’s very special,” Meyer said.
That gift was made possible by the nearly 400 Angel Tree sites this year — businesses, churches and families that collected toys and gift cards to provide the magic of Christmas. The Salvation Army Kent County was able to collect 9,451 gifts by the start of this week and over 840 $20 gift cards.
The Salvation Army will be holding their toy distribution again on Wednesday, Dec. 21. Families who did not register for assistance and are in need this Christmas season are encouraged to arrive at the GRFD Training Facility (1832 S. Division Ave., Grand Rapids) from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Excess toys will be offered on a first come, first serve basis at that time until they are gone or until 4 p.m., whichever comes first.