For the third year, Tiffany Piper pulled her car into a Harker Heights fire station to receive free food and gifts from the Santa Pal Program.

“I don’t have enough money for food and gifts right now, so this means we’ll have a wonderful Christmas,” Piper said.

That sentiment was shared by the families that arrived at Fire Station No. 2 on Stillhouse Lake Road on Dec. 22.

It was the 26th year for the program, which is sponsored by the Harker Heights Fire Department, along with the Harker Heights Lions Club, to help families in need enjoy a merrier Christmas.

On an average, 150 families receive the assistance. It takes up to $10,000 to fund the program with donations coming from businesses and individuals.

Santa Pal program recipients must fill out an application for approval and be residents of Harker HeHeights.

“Our community has a big heart and this year we’ll give toys to 273 children,” said Andrea Womack, of the Harker Heights Lions Club.

As soon as a vehicle pulled in, a team of firefighters and volunteers sprang into action — one grabbed a frozen turkey, another handled the pie while someone picked up a bag of groceries containing a box stuffing, and mashed potatoes, along with canned vegetables, rolls and other foods.

The Santa Pal program means a lot to Jennifer Soliz.

“Without this program, we wouldn’t have anything this Christmas,” Soliz said.

First-time volunteer, Natalie Austin, another Lions Club member, didn’t mind the chilly weather, saying she was warmed by the people’s smiles.

“The look on their faces is worth all the work,” Austin said.

Womack checked Santa’s “Nice” list calling out the corresponding number for each family.

“Get C-37 for this car,” she said.

The crew searched the rows of labeled boxes, found the right one and put it in the vehicle. Each child in the family received two to three gifts depending upon their age and gender. The toys came in every type and variety, from teddy bears to board games, soccer balls and Lego sets, and some children received a new bicycle.

Normally, the Central Station on Indian Trail is the site for the giveaway, but due to renovations there, Fire Station No. 2 filled in.

Aaron Dunnam was one of five firefighters working as Santa’s helpers. “This gives us an opportunity to give back to the community outside of our normal emergency duties, and help people during the holiday season,” Dunnam said.

Firefighter/Paramedic Justin Lewis looks forward to this event every year, as he has for the last eight years.

“I love doing it because it helps so many people,” Lewis said.

Christine Galvan expressed thanks for making her 6-month-old baby’s first Christmas a merry one.

“It’s been a hard year for us, so I really appreciate the help,” she said.

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