The 30th annual Bob Telmossé Christmas Giveaway was the Black Friday of holiday charity events this year.
More than 1,000 turkeys. Over 600 bicycles. Countless toys, coats, ornaments, and groceries. All handed out for free, no questions asked. And though the doors at the giveaway didn’t open until 7 a.m. Friday, the line for the event started hours earlier.
Cheri Strahan, a 32-year-old mother of five, showed up at 12:30 a.m. to wait in the cold to make sure her kids all got bikes. She was fourth in line out of an estimated 12,000 participants at the Freedom Financial Services Expo Center, where the giveaway was held.
“Without this, a lot of people wouldn’t have presents. I couldn’t afford this bike,” said Strahan, pointing to a small bicycle she got for one of her young daughters.
Tanya Burnay, 34, arrived at the Expo Center with her four children at 5:45 a.m. Two hours later, she was still waiting in line behind hundreds of people. But she didn’t mind a bit.
“The best part is my kids are happy and excited. We were huddled outside, waiting, and the kids were telling jokes and laughing,” Burnay said. “It makes the spirit of Christmas a lot better.”
At 9 a.m., there were still hundreds of people waiting in the 30-degree cold outside, hoping for a turkey or some toys. So J.T. Gibbons, one of the giveaway’s 700 volunteers, rearranged the waiting line to get more people into the Expo Center’s foyer.
“This is the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen,” said Gibbons, who has been volunteering for the giveaway for three years.
By 2 p.m., when the giveaway was supposed to close down, there were still dozens of people in line. Organizers kept the event going. All of the 600 bikes were gone by 10 a.m., and all of the grocery bags had been handed out, but there were still turkeys, bags of potatoes and toys left.
With the country and the city going through hard times, the giveaway has become more important than ever, said Dean Miller, 48. He was at the giveaway on behalf of his friend Tammy, who had to work Friday morning, but who was hoping to get some free clothes and a bike for her son.
“There are plenty of people who want help and need it,” Miller said.
Telmossé, a Colorado Springs businessman and philanthropist, passed away in 2006 at age 64, but the giveaway has long since become a family institution. And it began by accident. Telmosse, who owned a furniture store, received a call just before Easter from someone who asked to use his parking lot to distribute food to the needy. The event was advertised, and people showed up — but the food didn’t.
Telmosse told the crowd to come back and after a little publicity donations started pouring in. He decided to continue the giveaway, but moved it to December.
The event has largely been driven in recent years by Carol Reinert, Telmossé’s widow. One of her grandchildren, 12-year-old Delanie McKeon, was working at the giveaway, wrapping presents. And she intends to take charge of the event when she gets older.
“I want to move back here and carry on the tradition,” said McKeon, whose family lives in California and drives here every year for Christmas. “I love seeing little kids holding their toys. It brings tears to my eyes.”
McKeon’s family lives not far from Los Angeles, but they drive out every year for Christmas and the giveaway.
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