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COLUMBIA - Holiday kindness is alive and well as thousands of gifts and donations are given to sponsored families, children, people with disabilities and seniors in Columbia through the Voluntary Action Center.

"We are going to serve about 1,037 families this year," said Executive Director Nick Foster. "That means somewhere between thirty-five-hundred and four-thousand individuals overall."

Distributions begin Thursday and will continue throughout next week.

Bags of gifts line the hallways, fill entire rooms and even touch the ceilings of the Trinity Presbyterian Church as sponsors bring in their donations.

Foster said the Holiday Program collects more than toys and games but also gives basic need items and hygiene products such as toilet paper, laundry detergent and toothpaste. 

An entire room at the church is filled with donated bicycles.

Families also receive gift cards and vouchers for holiday meals. 

One volunteer said she has been helping with the Holiday Program for 27 years.

"I started out emptying cars, carrying in boxes and organizing rooms," Helena Kiessling said. "Every year I think maybe I'm not going to be able to do it again but I do. I'm here and I'm very fortunate to do so."

She said volunteering with the Voluntary Action center has changed her life.

"I lost my son in 1990 and I needed something to do," Helena said. "One of my friends recommended the Volunteer Action Center and I just came here and it saved my life that year.”

For Sandy Rodriguez, this year was her first time volunteering for the Holiday Program. She said everyone is incredibly welcoming and it is great to watch the sponsors pour in with donations.

Local families apply in the early fall to receive gifts for the holidays and are then matched with a sponsor said Foster.

He said there are still about forty families awaiting sponsorship and it is not too late to donate. Gift distribution will continue next week.

Visit the Voluntary Action Center website if you wish to donate or volunteer for the 34th annual Holiday Program. 

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