Organizers called it a record-breaking year. More than 700 volunteers flocked around Civic Center Park in downtown Denver on Christmas Day to help host a free market for the less fortunate. Among the volunteers were church groups, community groups, and members of the Temple Sinai.
Jim Francis, one of the organizers, says between 800 to 850 people lined up in the early morning hours to pick out donated items. They were given big blue bags to fill.
Among the donations were 550 sleeping bags, 500 new winter coats, and 640 backpacks. There were also tables of clothes, socks, dog food, and chapstick. Volunteers cooked more than 1,000 cheeseburgers.
At noon, organizers dropped the tape allowing those in line to walk down a chute of tables collecting what they needed.
Twenty-nine-year-old Maurice Henderson was one of the first in line at the market and said Christmas Day can be lonely without any loved ones to spend it with.
“I don’t really have a family or nothing," said Henderson. "Lack of friendship and family, after a while you just resent everything around you, you resent yourself.”
Henderson said his skateboard was stolen days before Christmas. To his surprise, the Salvation Army presented him with a new bike to replace it.
The annual event is put on by Denver AfterHours, a faith-based community started by Jerry Herships, aimed at helping serve the homeless in Metro Denver. The charitable group is known for its generosity and handing out Peanut Butter and Jelly lunches to the homeless in Lincoln Park year-round.
Shaunja Bonner said she has been helping out for the last four years and knows what it’s like to be homeless on Christmas.
“I volunteer because I used to be in the homeless line," she said. "I used to live out on the streets and I had no direction and nowhere to go.”
Bonner said she’s been clean and off the streets since 2014 has been paying it forward since then.
“I haven’t looked back," she said. "So every Christmas, I make it a point that I come down here, not only do I help with coffee or cocoa but I help hand out bags and stand there, talk to people, pray with people, and let them know that you can change your ways and you can change your direction.”
Organizers ask that any leftover donated items be left in a Salvation Army drop box.