The organization collected thousands of toys through its Angel Tree program.
As the Escobar family located the cardboard box with their family's assigned number on it, 3-year-old Jose smiled and hugged his new friend — a teddy bear he had just received.
The Escobars were among the 600 Manatee County families that received toys and clothing Dec. 18 from the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program.
Each child, of the more than 1,500 county children who received gifts this year, received five items from their wish and need lists.
Cardboard boxes filled with board games, skateboards, fishing poles, nail polish and other gifts lined the walls of the State Road 70 Salvation Army location on distribution day.
"Distribution day is one of my favorite days of the year," said Major Marion Durham, associate regional coordinator for Salvation Army of Manatee County. "This event helps make Christmas less of a time of stress for some families who can't afford gifts. If you can't pay your light bill each month, you're not going to be able to buy gifts for your children."
Participants of the program, which dates back to 1979, chose tags off a tree at a local grocery store, restaurant or other facility, that feature children's names, ages and items they wanted for Christmas. People could also donate money to the bell ringers stationed at grocery stores.
Without participation from the community, the program wouldn't exist, Durham said.
"Thank you to all those individuals who put money in a kennel or pulled a name off a tree," Durham said. "Today was a day of joy and culmination of months of hard work. This is a day that celebrates giving and receiving."