Durham, N.C. — Tony Gooch has a single goal for the Durham Rescue Mission's annual Christmas dinner and giveaway: "No one leaves without anything, and everyone has a Christmas."
To fulfill that mission Friday, it took 552 volunteers to feed 2,858 people and give away 12,000 toys, 9,843 pieces of clothing and 12,000 bags of groceries.
"I think the need is greater because the economy is low now," volunteer Terryca Taylor said.
"I've been doing rescue work for 42 years now, and I've never seen it this bad for this long, affecting so many people," rescue mission co-founder Ernie Mills said.
Families with children started lining up outside the rescue mission at 3:30 a.m. Friday, more than eight hours before the event began.
"They get here this early, because they're afraid they might not have a toy," said Gooch, the rescue mission's director of development operations.
Making sure children have gifts at Christmastime is close to his heart, Gooch said, after watching his single mother struggle to provide even one gift for her children some years.
"Being a father, it's always a joy to see a child smile. And that's what we want to hear. We don't want these children to not go without Christmas," he said.
The goal is to give each child three or four gifts. The children play games to win the toys, so it also gives them a feeling of accomplishment, Mills said.
"If this wasn't here, there'd be a whole lot of little boys and girls depressed on Christmas Day, because they don't have anything to open up," said recepient Ladarius Cash.
A few weeks ago, the rescue mission had only 15 toys, but after a WRAL News story on the situation, dozens of local companies rallied, raising tens of thousands of dollars and donating hundreds of toys.
Taylor asked children in her Sunday school class to donate their old toys.
"This is my first time seeing this actually, but it won't be my last, because I know there's a need. I know where we can give," she said.
Mother Raven Williams said she's grateful for the sacrifices of all the volunteers and donors.
"Lots of people didn't get anything for Christmas this year, so I would tell them I'm very thankful for them and to keep helping," Williams said.
In addition to giving toys to children and groceries and clothing to adults, the heart of the rescue mission's event remains Christmas dinner. Volunteers began roasting turkeys Thursday evening and kept on cooking overnight.
"We're going to have a wonderful Christmas dinner with all the fixings, turkey, ham, beans, corn and stuffing," Gooch said.
The Durham Rescue Mission's Christmas dinner and giveaway began at noon and continued until supplies run out.
"They're going to come out, fill their bellies and walk away with a smile on their face and groceries and clothing," Gooch said.