By Kim Steele
Killeen Daily Herald
Andrea Womack has a birds-eye view of the need filled by the annual Santa Pal program in Harker Heights.
"Being a youth pastor puts me on the front line, and I see poverty firsthand," said Womack, 48, who serves at New Beginnings Church in Harker Heights. "Santa Pal just scratches the surface. But we're making a difference, one person at a time. It's very rewarding to look into these children's eyes after helping them."
Womack, who is vice president of the Harker Heights Lions Club, got involved with the Santa Pal program several years ago. At that time, the club joined with the Harker Heights Fire Department, which had been administering the program for about 20 years.
Last Monday, the program handed out Thanksgiving turkey dinners to 72 families, or 236 people. Meal and toy distribution for Christmas will take place on Dec. 19 at the fire department.
Womack was one of numerous Lions Club volunteers helping distribute the bagged meals to drivers as their vehicles passed through the bays of the fire station in Harker Heights. Womack said the volunteers were honored to be able to serve the less fortunate in the city.
"I think it's wonderful that our Lions Club wants to be involved in the community," said Womack. "The members are willing to get in there and get their hands dirty. And we want to grow the club, because we need an entire army of people to handle a task like this."
Harker Heights Deputy Fire Chief Glenn Gallenstein said the Santa Pal program has grown each year, with a 20 percent increase this year in the number of Thanksgiving baskets distributed.
Gallenstein said he believes there will be a 20 percent or more increase in Christmas baskets and toys next month.
Last year, said Gallenstein, 114 families composed of 237 children and 181 adults, for a total of 418 individuals, received Christmas meal bags and at least two toys per child. Gallenstein expects the number of families to grow to about 140 in December.
"Santa Pal's whole purpose is to help people in need," said Gallenstein. "These tough economic times are stressful enough, and I can't imagine the added stress of a needy family trying to provide a holiday meal and gifts to the kids.
Every child deserves Christmas, and without this program, many wouldn't get one."
How to help
The Santa Pal program provides Thanksgiving and Christmas Day meals to qualifying needy families in Harker Heights, and adds toys for children during its December meal give-away.
Applications for assistance will be taken from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 5-9 at the Harker Heights Fire Department, 401 Indian Trail.
Applicants must supply proof of residency and all income, have a Texas identification card or driver's license, include all Social Security numbers and provide birth certificates for all children.
New, unwrapped toys are still needed for the Christmas distribution, as well as cash donations. Toys can be dropped off at the fire station, and cash donations can be designated for the Santa Pal program at Harker Heights City Hall, 305 Miller's Crossing.
For more information, call (254) 699-2688.
Contact Kim Steele at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7567.