Heights Herald/TJ MAXWELL - Brandon Gallenstein, 21, prepares to load a bicycle into a car as they give out holiday meals and toy baskets to underprivileged families on Monday at the Harker Heights Fire Department main station.

By Krista M. Madkins

Harker Heights Herald

Spreading some Christmas cheer, the Harker Heights Fire Department and Lions Club helped 541 less-fortunate people and provided gifts to 315 children through the Santa Pal program.

The fire station bay was filled with parked bicycles, bags packed with ingredients for a Christmas meal and boxes filled with toys, all of which had been donated by residents. Volunteers manned each station.

"The individual shows proof of identification and is then handed a number," said Glenn Gallenstein, Harker Heights deputy fire chief. "The number may just symbolize food only, if they don't have any children, or it may stand for food and toys. The number could also have the letter B after it meaning that they also receive a bicycle."

Lawrence Sanchez, second vice district governor for the Killeen Lions Club, helped hand out toys and food.

The Harker Heights club is "in our district, and our motto is 'we serve,' and I like the serving part, so we are here doing just that," Sanchez said.

Members of Sanchez's family, Gallenstein's three sons, and members of the fire department and Lions Club helped out, while holiday music played, thanks to Gallenstein and his sons. They played festive music from an iPhone and hooked up speakers so everyone could hear it.

Santa Pal provides ingredients for a traditional holiday meal and toys to those in need. The meal consists of a turkey, pumpkin pie, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy.

"The food is not prepared; however, we feeling being able to cook the holiday meal is a part of celebrating the holiday and that the family can gather around," said Fire Chief Jack Collier, adding that people had to apply and qualify for the program.

People had to provide proof of citizenship and proof that they are receiving assistance from the state to qualify. Applicants with children were asked to provide a birth certificate for each child, enabling them to get gender-appropriate gifts.

Contact Krista M. Madkins at kmadkins@kdhnews.com. or (254) 501-7468.

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