For low-income families, or families in financial crisis, Christmas can be a heart-wrenching time.

Families struggling to pay the bills can find it all but impossible to buy extras for Christmas.

For the past 22 years, Cleta Null and a group of loyal volunteers have worked to provide toys, gifts, clothes and food for Christmas dinner for local families in need.

Null started the annual family assistance Christmas program in her basement, which still serves as headquarters. Originally, used toys were added to a Christmas dinner basket for a handful of families.

Now, thanks to the fact that the entire community has adopted Null’s Adopt-A-Family program, all clothing and toys distributed to local families are new and gift wrapped. The Christmas dinner basket, which is provided by Agape Food Pantry, includes groceries for a week.

In 2012, Adopt-A-Family provided Christmas baskets of food, clothing and gifts for 685 families with over 2,500 children and over 100 senior citizens and nursing home patients.

“We never turned anyone away,” Null said. “Everyone who requested assistance received it.”

Adopt-A-Family does screen the names of those seeking assistance through local churches and civic groups to avoid duplication.

Any family needing assistance can contact Agape House, Meramec Valley Community School, Mission Community Church or contact one of the people listed below.

As part of the program, volunteers obtain the names of every member of each family, including the gender and age of children. Each child receives two age-appropriate toys, exactly what they asked for if it’s available.

Every child who requested a bicycle in the past five years has received one. Children also receive two new outfits, including, coats, socks and underwear.

To put all these items together, Null says she became solicitor general, asking churches, civic groups, businesses and individuals to contribute new gift and clothing items and money.

If a Wal-Mart customer opens a package of socks or underwear and puts it back onto the shelf, the opened package is passed onto Adopt-A-Family. Every bicycle that is returned to Wal-Mart for any reason goes to the Christmas program.

One local seamstress sews dozens of holiday dresses for girls.

When there are no clothes of a certain size, Null uses donated funds to purchase clothing.

“Every year we have to buy extra clothes for 8-, 10- and 12-year-old boys and girls both,” Null said. “For some reason there are a lot of kids in that age group and not enough donated clothing.”

A few days before Christmas, a group of volunteers go on a unique shopping experience. Holding a shopping list for each individual family, they assemble the needed items from the boxes in Null’s basement. Another group of volunteers giftwraps each item.

Some churches and individuals prefer to provide for a family or group of families. For those, Adopt-a-Family provides the names of families and the age and gender information.

“For people who want to help, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas,” Null said.

Clothing and toys can be dropped of at Null’s residence, 1463 Highway 100 in Pacific. Donations to the program can be mailed to Adopt-A-Family at the same address.

For more information about donating, volunteering or identifying a family in need, people may contact Null at 636-742-2244; Debbie Kelley, 636-675-0444; or Brenda McDaniel, 636-271-5315.