VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (WVEC-TV) -- This time of year, we see many people enlisting to help The Salvation Army -- people like Merlin Kary donating his time to make thousands of boxes that will eventually contain gifts of clothing donated by the public to Angel Trees at area malls and businesses over the holiday season.
"I love it," Merlin said. "I've helped to take the recipients out to their cars and help unload the gifts -- that could get emotional."
Merlin started tearing up knowing how many children will feel good because they get to open a gift on Christmas morning.
"Too see a smile on a child's face," Merlin said. "Every child should be able to open a gift for Christmas."
And thanks to the Angel Tree program, thousands will throughout Hampton Roads. According to the latest figures from The Salvation Army, this year's Angel Tree could help as many as 12,000 people.
Throughout the holiday season, 13News Now has been urging viewers to give to the Angel Tree program while shopping. We've been a sponsor for 32 years now. During our newscasts, we've asked viewers to go to an Angel Tree you see in a store, pick a tag off of that tree, and buy a gift of clothing for the child listed on the tag. The tag includes size information. Return your unwrapped gift under that Angel Tree and The Salvation Army will handle the rest. That's where volunteers like Merlin come in.
They sort your donated gifts and put the clothes in big boxes that match the child's size. Families come into the huge Salvation Army Christmas Depot Warehouse near Virginia Beach Town Center on Distribution Days to pick out the gift of clothing from those boxes.
Merlin makes those boxes and stacks them up in long rows -- we're talking about thousands of boxes!
Other volunteers label the boxes and then put the donated clothes into the right ones.
Then -- on Distribution Days -- thousands of families come into the warehouse to pick up the clothing gifts so they can take them home and put them under the family tree so the kids have something to be excited about on Christmas morning.
And something magical happens on those Distribution Days -- volunteers and U.S. Marines transform the old warehouse into a beautiful, festive place filled with Christmas decorations and holiday cheer.
The Marines do the heavy lifting -- sweeping and cleaning the old warehouse -- turning it into something wonderful for the families coming in.
"They transform this empty warehouse into a child's dream land where the toys are on display, the Angel Tree gifts are arranged in boxes for these families, but without these volunteers, we could not do this," said Major James Allison, Area Commander for The Salvation Army.
Distribution Days are coming up on December 15, 16, and 17. And Merlin, who's 77 years old now, is as excited as a little kid on Christmas.
"This really works well," Merlin said. "It really does."