SAN ANTONIO – Inside the cavernous former Air Force warehouse at Port San Antonio, volunteers were as busy as elves, unboxing a mountain of toys for the Elf Louise Christmas Project.
It is inspiring "to think about the kids who are going to be so shocked when somebody walks in their houses and gives them all these gifts," said Jada Rodgers, a John Paul Stevens High School junior.
Rodgers and nearly a dozen classmates were volunteering their time Monday, opening boxes of trucks, stacking toddler toys and divvying up batteries.
"It's to help other kids who don't have stuff for Christmas like we do," said 16-year-old Alyssa Sambrano.
This is the 49th year for the Elf Louise Christmas Project, during which 5,798 families will get assistance. That means 19,200 children who might otherwise have no presents will find dolls, games, trucks, basketballs and more under their trees.
It's a far different operation than it was in its humble beginnings.
"It's astounding the difference," said Bill Harrison, the executive director who's worked with the project for the past 26 years. "We were doing things on three by five cards. Computers have had an amazing effect on our project and saved us numerous hours."
It's a massive undertaking, run on hope, faith and donations, as well as $45,000 worth of AA batteries for the toys.
Harrison says the vast majority of the toys are purchased by the nonprofit, utilizing H-E-B's purchasing power to save money.
Approximately 5,000 volunteers will help over the coming weeks with sorting, wrapping and delivering toys.
While the project has filled its group slots for wrapping, individuals and families are welcome to show up during wrap times. Those can be seen on the calendar at the nonprofit's website.
Volunteers for Santa runs are still needed. The red suit and beard are provided, as well as padding if needed.
Soon enough, the mountain of toys will be ready for delivery, but the student volunteers will tell you they are already on the receiving end.
"You always hear about Christmas joy and magic," Rodgers said. "It's really heart-warming to be part of the Christmas magic."