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Salvation Army Christmas Cheer Program Sees Increased Need

Thousands of families received toys and food Wednesday from the Salvation Army’s Christmas Cheer program. This year's participation rate was up compared to previous years. Dozens of people, some alone, others with children and infants, wait in an auditorium at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. They hold registration papers for the Salvation Army’s Christmas Cheer program. Cheryl Moore’s number was just called to begin the process. Moore, who is from the city’s West Side, pushes her infant grandson in a stroller. "I lost my job in 2008. I was unable to find another job, and because of injuries from work I went on disability and SSI. And it’s just really not enough to live on," Moore said. Further ahead in line, a woman rolls a cardboard box along a conveyor belt as volunteers fill it with canned goods, boxed stuffing and produce. A man chooses a toy for his son. Volunteer Tyrrea Byrd has worked with Christmas Cheer for the last 20 years. But Byrd started out on the receiving end of the program. “The first year my mom moved here she needed assistance. And she was actually assisted with this program. And when we got to the end of the line we were both in tears. And so I just wanted to learn how to give back," she said. Byrd has seen the program develop during the years. “We’re serving more and more families every year. It just grows. The number grows. I’ve not seen it decrease. I’ve only seen it increase," Byrd noted. More than 7,200 individuals or families signed up for Christmas Cheer this year. That’s a 12 percent increase compared to last year. But while the need grew, donations dropped. Nine-thousand-six-hundred toys were donated this year. But that was not enough. The Salvation Army had to buy 3,000 more to fill the gap. Krista Ross helps direct social services for the Columbus Salvation Army. Ross said the reason for both the increase in need and decrease in donations is the economy. “We started seeing the increase in 2008 with the beginning of the recession. 2009 was pretty big for the Christmas program. This is one of our largest years as far as registration. I remember the years that it was 2,000 families that we were helping and that seemed big. So it’s just grown, and we’ve found ways to make it work," Ross recalled. And Ross said the type of families they serve is changing. “We’re also reaching into that lower-middle class that this is the first time they’ve used our services," she said. Last year was Roquesa Harrington’s first time to utilize Christmas Cheer. Harrington, who has three children, has been unemployed for two years. She recently obtained her license to draw blood for doctor’s offices, but she still cannot find work. “If I didn’t have this program I would have to actually try to go to like my mother and them and she’s unemployed also. We kind of would go without a little bit right now," Harrington said. A volunteer directs Harrington to the line, "They’re going to help you shop right around this way."