CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - When people are out shopping for holiday presents this weekend, they can also think about shopping for children in need through the Angel Tree program.
"They touch hearts of so many kids, so many underprivileged kids, in whatever situation or family dynamic they may be in," Marie Gardner said. "This program helps put smiles on so many kids' faces every year. It's a huge blessing and I'm very, very grateful for the Salvation Army."
Gardner signed up for the Angel Tree two years ago when she took over the responsibility for her three nieces to help her sister.
"Christmas came. It was of course a concern, how am I going to provide for all these kids? I have two children of my own, so to have three more, I was just really concerned about what I could get for them that they needed," she said.
However, she said donations to the Angel Tree helped provide everything they wanted, including bicycles and clothes for school.
"They were so excited for Christmas and they were really happy," she said. "It was special moment. To kids, that's really big for kids."
Gardner's nieces moved away last year, but they're back with her this year.
"We're going through the same thing that we went through two years ago," she said.
She signed up for Angel Tree once again to make sure Christmas is as special as it should be.
"I'd probably feel a great sense of guilt because I can't provide all that I want to," Gardner said. "I'm more than willing to take the responsibility, but it's a lot for one person on one income. I'm not doing it for any accolades. I'm not doing it for any recognition. Without the program, it would be different. Very different."
Her nieces are wishing for a bicycle, coloring book, toys and clothes.
Gardner is hoping they'll feel a sense of love on the holiday.
"I want them to be happy," she said. "I want them to know that they are loved and I want them to know that they can be little kids and just be as happy as ever."
Four hundred and twenty-five families are signed up through the Salvation Army office in Conway, Major Angie Repass said.
About 480 families were signed up last year, she said, and because Salvation Army understands people were preoccupied over the last month with the hurricane, flood victims can still sign up until December 2.
They can call 843-488-2769 for a screening to see if they qualify.
People can call after that if they've dealt with an emergency, such as a robbery.
Each child receives an outfit, a pair of shoes and two to three toys.
To adopt an angel, visit the WMBF News Virtual Angel Tree: http://www.wmbfnews.com/category/319624/angel-tree
"I know personally a lot of families that benefit from this program and the children are always happy, the children are always excited on Christmas," Gardner said. "As a parent, as the adult it does alleviate a lot of stress."