SWFL couple spreads Christmas joy to those in need

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So many people are struggling this holiday, but one couple is trying to make it easier on those in need.

Operation Christmas started with one man in Alva. He would dress up as Santa and deliver toys to his friends’ children. Four years ago, Toys for Tots partnered with him to provide more toys for even more families in need.

It’s a Christmas tradition for Charlie Harrington and Jackie Armate. Every year, they make a special list.

“I think I’ve checked it at least four, maybe five times…” Armate said.

“Way more than twice,” added Harrington.

Their list this year is made up of 300 families in need to make sure they have presents to unwrap on Christmas Day.

“We just want to make sure everyone is helped,” Armate said.

2020 will go down as a year of misery, pain, hardship and loss for many people, so the Alva couple’s list is longer than usual.

“I’ve been calling it a logistical nightmare, but everybody’s getting their toys and no one will slip through the cracks,” Harrington said.

Dressed in a suit that’s red, Harrington packed a truck full of toys. One of his stops: the Lehigh Acres home of Charles Grillo, a father of two.

“I got maybe 12 gifts between my wife working late nights and me not working, 12 gifts to wrap and that was it, we didn’t have anything for our kids,” said Grillo, who was moved to tears by the act of kindness.

“I cried. As a father, it hurts. You know, I was making 70, 80,000 a year, and now I’m making zero.”

Seeing the smiles of those they help brings joy to Armate and Harrington each Christmas season.

The couple said their goal for 2021 is to turn Operation Santa into a nonprofit so they can continue to spread Christmas cheer to even more families in need.

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