Fred Williams, 69, is in the process of adopting his three grandchildren. 

“We go in June for the final adoption –– June or July,” Williams said. “I feel pretty strong about it right now.”

The process has not been easy. When Williams took on his three grandchildren, he was retired and planning to move south. Now, he has to find a job to support his new family. 

Williams said he is not struggling, but with the holiday season approaching, he felt that he would be soon.

“I would spend every penny I got to keep them guys,” he said. 

Around the holiday season, families that have fallen on hard times have to choose between making ends meet or Christmas toys for their kids. 

“There is about 43 million people in the United States who live in poverty, so that could be a large number of people who don’t have the means when Christmas comes around, when Thanksgiving comes around, to celebrate that holiday,” said Joseph Cohen, the national communications coordinator for the Salvation Army.

Cohen also said there are many reasons why a family may fall on hard times, but the most common reasons include drug or alcohol abuse. 

In Delaware county, 22 percent of people live below the poverty line, according to the U.S. Census. So what happens when nearly a third of Delaware county families can’t afford to celebrate Christmas in a way they would like to? 

Secret Families happens. 

Secret Families is a Christian charity organization that serves the Muncie community by providing a decorated Christmas tree, gifts, a bible and a $50 Meijer gift card to families in need — chosen by local schools — on the first Saturday of December. 

Secret Families held its 15th annual event Saturday, Dec. 1. Organization president Alan Holdren said the organization served 363 families and accumulated more than 2,100 volunteers. 

The event began at 5:15 a.m. when shopping teams of volunteers packed Meijer to buy the items the chosen families requested. 

The shoppers \had 20 minutes to buy $80-worth of gifts each. Volunteer drivers transported purchased gifts across the street to Toyota of Muncie, where the first of three shifts of volunteers wrapped them, like nine-year-old Ellie Anderson, who participated for her third year in a row. 

“I wanna help the people that don’t have a lot,” she said. “[I like] being excited for the other kids.”

Runners took the wrapped gifts out to white tents. It poured all morning, so puddles formed in areas under the tents, making an already tight space even tighter, but that didn’t seem to bother seven-year volunteer Katy Carson. 

The 17-year-old organized bags of presents into rows, then helped take those bags over to delivery trucks.

“I just loved it so much because the first year we did deliveries and the looks on the little kids’ faces was just the best feeling in the world, so I always wanted to come back,” Carson said. 

While the shifts of wrappers were wrapping, teams of deliverers took decorated Christmas trees to the receiving families. 

At 10 a.m., nearly five hours after the shopping teams met up, the first delivery vehicles departed from Toyota, including Jim Neal in his white Chevy Silverado. 

Neal, his daughter and his friend went on five runs, delivering to three families in each run, one of which was Williams. 

When Neal arrived at Williams’ house, Williams said he was stunned. 

“I was really delighted –– I have never received anything like that,” Williams said. “That topped my day. Somebody really caring about somebody they don’t know.” 

Williams said he is grateful for Secret Families’ kindness and he is considering volunteering in the future. 

Contact Hannah Gunnell with comments