"I think it's awesome," said Shirley Carvajal, a sailor stationed in San Diego. "My family is not here, and it's only me and my daughter, so I'm trying to do everything I can to make her have a memorable [Christmas]. So, it's a really good thing."
Carvajal is one of several hundred people who shopped Wednesday and Thursday at the Armed Services YMCA in Tierrasanta. Each family got to pick out two toys per child, as well as stocking-stuffers and a small tree -- for free.
Armstrong said that more than 2,000 families signed up for the shopping spree this year. That's roughly twice as many as last year, leaving hundreds of others on a waiting list for more donations. Armstrong said it's likely that deployments and the sour economy are responsible for the spike. The program relies on private and corporate donations, which, they said, have been very generous. The increase in the number of families, however, makes it difficult to provide all applicants with gifts.
"We won't be able to serve all of them, but we do our best," Armstrong said. "We can only do what we can do. At the end of the toys, it's the end of the toys."
The story at other charities aournd the county is similar. Earlier this month, the Salvation Army reported that the number of families signing up for its toy drive increased by 10 percent, although the number of donations had decreased. A spokeswoman for Toys for Tots in San Diego County said 33 percent more families signed up with her organization to receive toys, but donations are behind the point they were last year. She said the groups most in need are toys for under 2 years old, and teenagers. People can donate until Dec. 20.
Still, the recipients who were able to take part in the YMCA's shopping spree -- many of whom have loved ones who are deployed -- are incredibly grateful,
"Our husbands leave, and it's kind of like we're sad, and so this kind of lifts our spirits, to be able to get things for our children." Michelle Vasquez said.
"It means a lot," saidthe Navy's Stephanie Frazier, "It means that there are still people out there willing to help out, even during these trying times."
Parents left thank-you notes as they left the YMCA. One read: "I just returned from Kuwait and didn't have the time or money to shop. You have become my son's Santa. Thank you."