40 years of helping families at Christmas: Meet the woman behind ‘Santa’s Helper’

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BATTLE CREEK, Mich., -- Darlene Williams is a lot like Santa. Every year, she makes a list and checks it twice. And she's been busy the past few months, working to make sure the holiday season is "merry" for as many people as possible.

"I don't get paid, the Lord signs my paycheck," said Williams. "It means the world to me. It's my heart, my soul and my passion."

Williams, 74, has spent more than half her life helping families at Christmas time. It started in 1975, volunteering to run the Salvation Army's "Adopt-a-Family"
program. In 1988, Williams branched out on her own, launching Santa's Helper, a program providing holiday and gift baskets to thousands of families in need.

The program began with about 300 people. This year, Williams said applications topped 1,600.

"It's just grown in leaps and bounds," she told FOX 17 News. "It's for the people in the community who need help at Christmas... I rely 100 percent on this community for all the help I get."

Williams has set up shop in the basement of First United Methodist Church in Battle Creek, collecting applications. Every year, the program begins October first, where applications are also taken for food baskets to be handed out for Thanksgiving.

Williams has the important task of finding and matching every family who applies for help with a donor.

"They're promised when they sign up that they will get a Christmas basket. I've never had to call a family yet, and I don't intend to do it this year either," Williams said. "Christmas is supposed to be of love and joy. We just want to make one day special for them."

This year, Williams has also taken it upon herself to sponsor 685 families on her own. She estimates the program will help more than five thousand people this holiday season.

"Without her, there wouldn't be this program, period," explained longtime volunteer Dennis Hershey. "And all the people that we're helping would not be
helped...She'll go out of her way to help everybody."

As the December Pay it Forward Person of the Month, Williams will receive a $500 dollar check, courtesy of Independent Bank.

Applications for Santa's Helper are no longer being taken for 2015. The application period for 2016 will begin October 1st.

If you'd like to help, or learn more about becoming a donor for the Santa's Helper Program, call 269-580-0295.

Know someone who FOX 17 should feature as our next Pay it Forward Person of the Month?  Nominate them here.

Meet Rick Ayotte, our November Pay it Forward Person of the Month.

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