or a single mom with another child on the way, a part-time job is barely enough to pay her bills.

So being able to take part in an annual event that gives presents to families in need is a big help.

Amanda Cress and her mother came to the Angel Tree Store in Franklin this week, an annual event that is stocked full of toys, games, stuffed animals and clothing for children in need. They shopped for Amanda’s 3-year-old son and left with two garbage bags full of presents.

“This program is phenomenal,” Amanda said. “It helps a lot of people, especially with the things they give out.”

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The annual event at Grace United Methodist Church is part of the United Way of Johnson County’s Christmas Angels program, which has been helping families for about 20 years. Families apply for the program each year, and those that are accepted are either sponsored by a family or individual, who will buy gifts for the children. Those that applied and did not get a sponsor were invited to the Angel Tree Store, where donations from families, companies and schools were gathered and separated into age categories.

Children 12 and younger could get four gifts, while those who are were 13 and older could get three. However, each child also was able to receive: one doll or ball, one stuffed animal, three stocking stuffers, one pair of socks, underwear, mittens or scarf, one book and two board games per family.

This year, the program helped 1,368 children, with about 300 invited to the Angel Tree Store. Over the past five years, the number of invited children has gone down, but the total number of families in need has increased, officials said.

Cress applied for the program and specifically requested not to be sponsored by a family because she thought it would make more sense for her to shop at the store herself, since she has just one child.

During her pregnancy she was unemployed and going through a divorce and was not sure what the future had in store for her and her newborn.

“It was hard from the beginning,” she said. “It was really rough at first to figure out how you are going to support another human, along with yourself.”

Amanda now has a part-time job at Marsh, which she started a month ago, and is able to work four or five times a week and still spend time with her son. Her paycheck of $200 every week is just enough to cover her monthly bills.

“It’s very tight, but we make it,” she said.

For Maryann Sparrow, a Greenwood resident, between medical bills and being unable to work, one of her biggest fears is not being able to provide a Christmas for her two adopted girls.

For her and her husband, Walter Sparrow Jr., their only form of income has been through Walter Sparrow’s Social Security benefits and checks from the adoption organization, Families Through Adoption, which help pay for basic needs for the children. However, that has not been enough.

In 2000, Maryann Sparrow became paralyzed in an accident. She has full use of her arms but varying strength in her chest and upper back muscles. She has been in a wheelchair ever since and no longer works. Her husband has had eight knee surgeries since her accident, leaving him unable to work.

“Our medical bills are just over the top,” she said. “We’re having to pay a little bit to each one, and nothing is left over. By the second week of the month, the money is already gone.”

For the second year in a row, the Christmas Angels has allowed her to provide the type of Christmas she wants her girls, ages 8 and 11, to experience.

“This program — it’s just wonderful,” Sparrow said. “It just amazes me, and I am very, very grateful that I found everything my kids asked for.

“I want everybody to have and experience the benefits that I have had.”

Peggy Soto believes her children might not have received anything for Christmas if it were not for the Christmas Angels program.

Soto is a single mother with a full-time job at Companion Care, which provides assistance for people with intellectual or physical disabilities and the elderly.

On one income, she is trying to provide for three children, ages 10, 13 and 17.

“With the monthly bills, if we are lucky and nothing bad happens, we may have about 200 extra dollars each month,” Soto said. “So this program helps out a lot; and if it wasn’t for this, they might not be getting anything for Christmas this year.”