They make Christmas brighter in homes where the holiday season may otherwise be bleak.

Indeed, the local Children's Christmas Gift Program provides a ray of hope for many families who struggle to make ends meet.

Sponsored by Friedens United Church of Christ, the program seeks to restore hope and reason to believe again, said committee member Janice Altrichter, a member of the four-person committee for the past three years. She said many people were involved to ensure the program was a success.

Before the program could begin to take shape, Altrichter said parents who are served by the Northern Lehigh Food Bank had to register their children who range in age from one day to 17 years old.

To make shopping easier, and to ensure the children received something they wanted or needed, parents provided information such as their child's first name, age, gender, and suggestions, she said.

This year, Altrichter said a record high 365 children were registered to receive three gifts each.

Next, Altrichter said people agreed to "adopt" the children and purchase gifts for them.

"Some people, like me, don't like to shop or don't have time to shop, so they donate money and one of our committee elves does the shopping," Altrichter said. "This year, our elf and her assistant shopped for over 50 children with money received from generous individuals and service organizations such as Lions Clubs and Rotary."

Once the funds were depleted and there were more children in need of gifts, special Food Bank elves obtained funds and shopped for children who registered late so that everyone would get gifts, she said.

From there, it was Distribution Day, when the families came to pick up the gifts, Altrichter said. On the morning of Dec. 11, wrapped gifts were dropped off by individuals, churches, and organizations for adopted children, she said.

Altrichter said the church pews were filled with over 1,000 gifts, while the "free tables" were filled with toys, clothing, decorations, books and so on from which the children could choose either one stuffed toy and a handmade knitted cap.

One man donated 100 toys; a woman donated clothing, books, tote bags, gloves; a family donated stuffed toys; and a church group knitted and donated many handmade knitted caps that everyone could take one, Altrichter said.

"When our doors opened for families to pick up their gifts, the look on the faces of children was one of being overwhelmed because they had so many choices for extras," she said. "So now we can say 'mission accomplished' knowing that we made Christmas brighter in homes where children might not have had any gifts."

Altrichter said it's generous deeds such as these that make the program worthwhile.

"Each year by the grace of God and many caring and generous people in our community, I see Christmas miracles happen," she said. "Just when we lose hope in not being able to meet the need, anonymous angels appear."