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Salvation Army program in Aurora makes sure needy have a Merry Christmas

'It warms my heart see smiles their faces you can't put price it' SalvatiArmy AurorCorps volunteer VeronicLopez said.  The

"It warms my heart to see the smiles on their faces, you can't put a price on it," Salvation Army Aurora Corps volunteer Veronica Lopez said. The Salvation Army's annual Angel Tree gift distribution was held Wednesday and Thursday on E. Galena Blvd. | p

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Updated: December 21, 2013 12:52PM

Maria Zuniga had a bright smile when a Salvation Army volunteer in Aurora found a Disney Princess doll in a pink chiffon dress for her youngest child on a shelf overflowing with Christmas toys.

“I pray that all those who give are blessed in their giving,” the Aurora mother said.

On Thursday, the Salvation Army Aurora Corps was having its annual Angel Tree gift distribution for hundreds of families that will place gifts under the trees of 2,500 children.

Pretty dolls and superhero action figures were plentiful on the shelves of the Salvation Army’s headquarters on East Galena Boulevard in Aurora.

Thanks to the generosity of donors, parents walked away happy knowing their children would have a gift to open on Christmas morning.

Zuniga said although these were difficult times for her family, she was happy and appreciative to receive gifts for her three young children.

“They will be so excited to find out what is inside,” she said.

Another mother, Cynthia Reyes, of Aurora, said the holiday season can be very expensive even with one child.

“I shopped for my 5-year-old daughter. She is already excited and expecting a gift from Santa,” Reyes said.

Salvation Army Capt. Antonio Romero understands the importance for every child to receive a gift, but each year he is taken aback to see how donors make sure to give the “perfect” match on a child’s wish list.

“It is amazing how thorough donors are to find the exact doll with a pink dress or that certain toy truck,” Romero said. “Parents are thankful to receive any gift, but it is especially special when the donors are so considerate of the details.”

The Salvation Army decided this year to create a toy store atmosphere for parents and relatives to do their holiday shopping. In previous years, the church sanctuary would be packed with hundreds of red bags filled with an assortment of toys for people to pick up.

They also decided to host the toy and warm coat distribution over two days so families would have time to make their selections.

Dozens of volunteers in the Salvation Army’s signature blue aprons assisted mothers and fathers looking for toys and stuffed animals their children had requested.

“It warms my heart to see the smiles on their faces. You can’t put a price on it,” volunteer Veronica Lopez said.

Romero said families, representing diverse backgrounds, are faced with a choice of whether to pay the bills or have Christmas. He said that many low-income single parents are struggling to make ends meet.

“Unfortunately, the need never seems to slow down,” he said.

The Salvation Army Aurora Corps partners with corporations willing to place Angel Tree gift cards on trees in their office vestibules, but this year a partnership with Dominick’s ended with the closing of the grocer’s Illinois stores, so there were few trees in public places this year.

Romero said what has made a difference in donations is the Salvation Army’s presence on its website and social media.

“For parents, it means somebody found it in their heart to share the joy of Christmas,” Romero said. “This could not possibly be done without the generosity of those who care to do a lot extra.”

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