Janice Tooke said she could relate to the families lined up to receive their Santa Pal baskets at the Central Fire Station on Friday morning.

Twenty years ago, Tooke and her husband had eight mouths to feed, were both in between jobs and relied on help from their church until they secured work.

“At the time, we were too proud to ask for help, but I have since learned my lesson on being too proud to ask for help,” said Tooke, now the second vice district governor for the Harker Heights Lions Club, as she checked and verified a Santa Pal recipient’s name off her clipboard. “I commend these people for asking for help.”

A steady stream of cars filed through the fire truck bays as families came to collect their Christmas meals and gifts for their children.

This year, 138 families signed up to receive gifts and a Christmas meal.

Of the 505 people needing assistance, 211 are adults and 294 are children.

The Christmas meal included one turkey, two packages of stuffing, one dozen eggs, two cans of green beans, two cans of corn, one box of rolls and a pie.

The fire department’s Santa Pal program means a lot to Bridget McVea and her 15-month-old son, Bryant.

“This really helps me out a great deal. If it wasn’t for this, I don’t know what my holiday would look like,” she said. “Now I know I will have a good Christmas.”

Each child in the family will receive two to three age- and gender-appropriate gifts.

“I like to help children and those in need,” Tooke said. “It’s sad to see how many people need the help, but it’s gratifying to see the people of Harker Heights coming together to help those in need.”

On hand to help expedite the delivery process were Heights firefighters and Lions Club members.

“We see people at their worst, so it’s nice for us to give them a nice memory of the fire department,” said Lt. Michael Shepard, who has been part of the program for the past 18 years.

“It’s nice for us to give back, since the community takes such good care of us.”

Contact Vanessa Lynch at vlynch@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7567.

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