BENSON — Every year, Benson Salvation Army volunteers work hard behind the scenes to help disadvantaged families with children celebrate Christmas.

While the Angel Tree program is a big part of what Benson’s volunteers do for kids, they also collect and distribute gently used clothing, toys and household items for adult family members and older children who are no longer eligible for Angel Tree.

In order for children to participate in the Angel Tree program, they must be 12 and younger and go through a Department of Economic Security qualifying process. Parents of children who are part of Benson’s program were invited to go through the donations and take clothing and household items, which were available for distribution on the morning of Dec. 22 at the Benson Community Center. Tables along one end of the center were piled with clothing and other items, while the remainder of the room was filled with bags of gift wrapped Christmas packages for the children.

“We have an incredibly generous community,” said Dottie Kreps, a Salvation Army volunteer with nearly 25 years service. “Forty-nine families from Benson and the surrounding area and 159 children were helped through our Angel Tree program this year. We also had seven new bicycles that were donated for kids, and we have a large assortment of clothing donations for men, women and children.”

As part of the Angel Tree distribution effort, hundreds of items were gift wrapped by teams of Salvation Army volunteers who started the project on Nov. 14 and continued wrapping through Dec. 21. The families also received bags filled with paper and hygiene products, necessities that food stamps do not cover. Donated by local churches, such items as paper products, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, diapers and laundry detergent are examples of essentials that were bagged and given to families when they arrived to pick up their children’s Angel Tree gifts.

“People start lining up early on distribution day because of the clothing donations,” Kreps said. “Every year, we have piles of very nice used clothing to offer, and they go quickly.”

While most of the volunteers assist with the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree distribution and red kettle campaign during the holiday season, a handful help with other projects throughout the year.

“I’ve been a Salvation Army volunteer so long that I have my own year-round office at the Benson Community Center,” said Kreps, who works at the office at 705 W. Union St. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 2 to 4 p.m. Barb Anderson is another volunteer who assists year round.

“I think it’s important for people to understand that all money raised through our red kettle campaign stays in Benson to support different projects we provide people throughout the year,” said Kreps. “The red kettle money is used to help people who need assistance with things like utility payments and rent. Sometimes we give a Walmart gift card to families with babies for baby food and diapers.”

On the Dec. 22 distribution day, Dottie Kreps and her 12-year-old granddaughter, Lauren, arrived at the community center ahead of other volunteers.

“Lauren is here to help wrap a few more gifts and organize different items for the distribution,” Kreps said.

Referring to herself as a “future Salvation Army recruit,” Lauren Kreps has been assisting her grandmother for a few years now during the holiday crunch.

“I started coming here after school in November to help wrap gifts,” she said. “We had 14 people who helped with the wrapping two days a week.”

Angel Tree gifts are purchased from a wish list that children fill out. The lists are secured to Christmas trees that are displayed in businesses, malls and other areas where people congregate during the holidays. Members of the community take one or more lists and purchase items the children select. Once the shopping is completed, the items and lists are given to the Salvation Army to be wrapped and distributed to the families.

“We make sure each child gets at least one item of clothing and a toy from that list,” said volunteer Barb Anderson, a year-round Salvation Army volunteer. “The families are assigned a number to help protect their anonymity.”

As the program’s distribution deadline approaches, the Salvation Army will purchase gifts for kids whose Angel Tree lists were not selected.

“This year, we received a $750 donation from Walmart and $240 in private donations to be used for that purpose,” said Anderson, who reiterated that the red kettle campaign money is not used for Angel Tree purchases.

“This year’s distribution effort was very successful,” Kreps said. “I credit our volunteers and a generous community for for creating a joyous Christmas for all our families.”

For information about the local Salvation Army and its role in the Benson area, call 520-255-6799 and leave a message.