HANCOCK COUNTY — It had been a rough year for Tonya Salinas. And the holidays just made things worse.
She was depressed, eyeing a pile of medical bills and knowing money was tight; she even took down the few Christmas decorations she’d put up at the motel where her family is living. The grandmother told her five youngest grandchildren — she has 13 — there just wasn’t enough money to buy Christmas presents this year.
That was until the Greenfield woman heard about the Day of Love and Caring, a toy and clothing giveaway held on Christmas Eve morning for families just like hers.
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The annual gathering, hosted by the Kenneth Butler Memorial Soup Kitchen and God’s Open Arms ministry, allowed Salinas — and an estimated 600 others in need — to come to the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds and pick out free toys, bikes, clothing, shoes, hats and more from heaps of items donated by the community throughout the year.
“This means the world to me,” Salinas said, wiping away a tear at the event Saturday morning. “I’ve always been able to get my grandkids something, and I just told myself, ‘I have to; I have to find a way this year.’”
Thanks to the Day of Love and Caring, she did.
The event also provided the children on hand a chance to meet Santa Claus and have a warm Christmas feast put together by Santa’s helpers — a host of community volunteers.
Michelle Williams of Fortville, her two daughters and niece stood by Salinas’s side holding several bags of clothes. They guided Salinas through the aisles, helping her shop for her grandchildren and picking out just the right toys to surprise them Christmas morning.
This is the third year in a row the entire Fortville family has volunteered to help those in need by becoming personal shoppers who listen to parents’ needs and then sort through presents at the Christmas giving event.
Her elementary-age children look forward to helping others and supporting the community, Williams said.
“I’m teaching them that they need to help the less fortunate and that it’s not always about them getting presents,” Williams said.
It’s important for children who have all they need to learn the Christmas season isn’t a cheery time for all and that some, without the help from others, wouldn’t have anything to open Christmas morning, she said.
Her 8-year-old daughter, Karsynn Williams, said she understood the importance of an event like the Day of Love and Caring for those who are struggling.
She wasn’t bothered by taking the time to step away and help.
“It feels right,” Karsynn said. “It’s not about just getting presents, it’s the birthday of Christ and giving.”
Organizers of the Day of Love and Caring have worked tirelessly for months, preparing by collecting new and gently used items for children and adults.
Local 4-H buildings were transformed into a large shopping area with tables filled with piles of toys of all types. There was also a present wrapping station set up to make sure the gifts were ready for Christmas morning before they headed out the door.
Families shopping for children were welcomed to browse the aisles first; then adults were invited to shop for themselves from the remaining items.
Melissa Payne of Charlottesville was shopping for her three sons and two step-sons. She and a friend went elbow deep into two large boxes full of boys hats, looking for items to get the children through winter.
“This is good, really helpful,” Payne said.
Event organizers were thrilled by the turnout of volunteers, somewhere near 100, they estimated, who helped pull off the event.
To be able to help so many families brought forth an overwhelming feeling of joy, organizers said.
“This is not just someone saying, ‘I have 50 bucks, and I want to spend it,’” said Peggy Couch of God’s Open Arms ministry. “This is God pushing someone saying, ‘I want to bless somebody,’ and that’s what we’ve done.”