The Mountain Post Santa's Workshop is still taking donations, organizers said Monday, encouraging community members to continue giving generously.
"We built an order on Christmas Eve last year — the family had a house fire and lost everything," said April Barnett, a Fort Carson spouse and former Army civilian who has served as the organization's president since last year.
On Monday the post served its last batch of "shoppers" — service members and spouses for whom buying gifts might be a stretch this year.
Usually, parents are able to choose several toys, a book, a board game and a few stocking stuffers for each child, with the help of a volunteer "elf." This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic and associated restrictions, the elves did the shopping while mom or dad waited in the car, on the phone, guiding them.
The program could have simply handed out bags of toys, Barnett said.
"With a lot of similar programs, what you get is what you get," she said. "That's not who we are. That's not what we do. We didn't want to lose sight of this unique experience we're giving to everyone we can."
Donations were down this year — but, thankfully, so was demand. This year the program served about 450 families, many with multiple children. Last year it served more than 700.
"It tears at my heart, the fact that we're down that much — the need is there," Barnett said. "We just don't know if we were able to capture everybody. But I don't know if our program could have sustained serving 700 in the way that we're providing this year."
The program is not just for military families who can't afford Christmas presents, she said, but those for whom doing so might put them in a bad financial spot.
"Especially younger military, when they come here, they don't realize the cost of living is so high compared to some places they're coming from, or that there's limited housing, and they're purchasing or renting and maybe haven't budgeted for that," she said.
The program tells families, "don't wait until February to pay off your credit card and you can't" because you purchased Christmas gifts for your kids you couldn't afford, she said. "You never know what's going to happen come the first of the year."
Monday signaled the end of the nonprofit's traditional Christmas efforts, but it gives out toys year-round if a situation warrants, Barnett said — hence the importance of continued donations.
"We've been notified in previous months of families coming in, domestic violence or very bad situations where families could use additional support, and we fill those needs throughout the year," she said. "If we have the inventory, we'll step up and support."
Those who wish to donate can learn how to do so at www.mountainpostsantasworkshopco.com.