Dozens of workers from the Putnamville Correctional Facility teamed up this year to provide Christmas presents to local families who are struggling to make ends meet.
The workers rode in pickup trucks and vans to Reelsville Elementary on Friday to deliver loads of brightly wrapped boxes and colorful gift bags. Nearly half the floor in one classroom was covered by the time all the presents had been carried into the school.
The effort brought smiles to the faces of correctional facility workers like Paula Mikles who has been helping with the gift drive since its inception four years ago.
"We love it," she said. "It's a good feeling."
While Mikles and a handful of fellow employees played the part of Santa's helpers at the school on Friday, dozens of employees at the correctional facility took part in the project by stopping by the donation tree at the correctional facility and pulling off lists of items that children had requested.
"I can only imagine their little smiles when they get up on Christmas day," correctional employee Tonya Morris said.
Putnamville Superintendent Al Parke said he believes the gift drive is one way for the correctional facility to have a positive impact on the area it serves.
"We're part of the community and this is our way of giving back," Parke said.
Since its inception, the annual gift drive has continued to expand each year by the number of children it serves.
This year, nearly 80 children in the Reelsville area, most of them students at the elementary or their families, will receive at least one present to open on Christmas Day.
During the first year of the program, about 20 kids received help and last year, about 50 children received the hope of a brighter holiday.
"We wish we were able to help even more kids," said Alisia Lawrence, executive assistant to the superintendent.
Lawrence and Mikles, along with Morris and a fourth employee named Chris Buis, took time from their jobs at the correctional facility Friday afternoon to deliver the presents to the school.
"We really enjoy it," Buis said.
Given the opportunity to ask for anything they wanted, most children would select toys as a top priority on their Christmas list. But that was not the case for a number of the children served by the gift drive at Reelsville.
Mikles said she had the pleasure of buying a brand new pair of shoes for a 8-year-old girl who had requested them on her Christmas list.
In the past, children have asked for clothes or items of necessity for their families.
"They'd be happy just to get the simple things," Lawrence said.
Other children asked for the more typical dolls, toy trucks and board games.
This year, a couple of kids asked for new bicycles which corrections employees were happy to buy for them.
Correctional employees told the BannerGraphic they recognized the need to help and decided the gift drive was something they just couldn't pass up.
"We knew there were many kids in the community who went without Christmas," Mikles said. "We decided to share some of our prosperity with the children."