Central New York, Community, Food

Christmas gift baskets mean more than just free food and toys

(c) Eshalaxmi Barlingay

By Eshalaxmi Barlingay SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – It’s almost Christmas time and pre-registration for free Christmas gift baskets has started. Every year, Onondaga County’s Christmas Bureau in collaboration with The Salvation Army provides gift baskets containing food, books and toys to low income families. This is their way of spread joy and happiness.

At one of the registration centers, were two friends for whom this gift basket mean more than just free food – Saad Awad and Larry Keefe. Saad Awad was a refugee from Iraq who came to Syracuse in 2008. Keefe was then working at a volunteer program and happened to help Awad. This is how they became friends and their friendship is still golden. “My family, his family.. We are all one,” said Keefe.

Awad faced many problems during his transition from Iraq to Syracuse. His biggest trouble was communicating in English. But Keefe helped him all through it and so they were here at the gift registration place, for Awad to sign up.

“For a family of eight, it is very difficult,” said Keefe about Awad’s reason to register for the gifts.

San Hasan, a refugee from Nepal, registers for the Christmas gift basket every year. “It’s for my family, my kids, it’s very important,” he said.

“The larger the family, the more items we provide them in the gift basket,” said Vadra Skinkle, a volunteer for The Salvation Army.

People of diverse backgrounds come to register for the gift baskets. Vadra said this get a little difficult. “Sometimes due to different backgrounds and language barriers, it gets difficult for us to converse,” she said. “But meeting new people every Christmas is very exciting.”

This year, around 2,500 families are expected to be eligible for Christmas gift baskets, out of which around 6,700 are children.

The guidelines to register for free Christmas gifts and toys can be found at The Salvation Army’s website.