A record number of families are expected to sign up for the Salvation Army's Christmas assistance program that began Tuesday.
"I don't know what we would do without it," said Alicia Sherman, a 36-year-old mother of three. "I would be grateful for whatever they can give."
A line of people formed out the door and along the parking lot at 226 N. Ross Lane, the former site of the Kid Time! Discovery Experience.
The building is owned by Batzer Construction, which donated use of the building for the assistance program.
"We looked like Black Friday with Walmart shoppers lined up," said Capt. Martin Cooper, commanding officer of the Salvation Army in Medford.
He said this could be a record year, not only in Medford, but for the Salvation Army nationally.
"Last year was the biggest year since 1898," he said.
In Medford, 1,200 families signed up in 2010, but this year that number could more than double. In 2009, 950 families signed up.
Many of those standing in line Tuesday recounted the toll the economic downturn has taken on their families.
And many, including Sherman, said it was their first time they had participated in the program.
Without the assistance, Sherman said it would be difficult to scrape together enough food and toys for her three children, though she said her father could help a little.
She said her husband, a small-engine mechanic, will be laid off during the holidays.
Gold Hill resident Debra George said she lost her job two weeks ago as a caregiver. And her mother died a month ago.
She said she's been out looking for jobs but hasn't had any luck yet.
"Right now, this is very important for me," said the 38-year-old mother of eight as she stood in line Tuesday. "I've never come to get the food here."
The Salvation Army already has seen a 35 percent increase in requests for help from its food pantry this year. Cooper said the economic downturn has increased need and put additional pressures on the homeless and veterans.
"It's not real optimistic right now," he said.
The Salvation Army will continue to offer registration for families over the next two weeks at the North Ross Lane building. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Dec. 6-7 and from 3 to 7 p.m. Dec. 1 and 8. Those seeking help need to bring identification for all family members along with income verification and proof of residence.
Food boxes and toys will be given to registered families Dec. 19-21 at the same site. The Salvation Army is providing distribution this year for the Toys for Tots program, which provided toys to 6,000 children in 2,500 families last year.
Those wishing to volunteer to help count, sort and bag toys and food on distribution days can call 541-773-6965.
Jackie Agee, development director for the Salvation Army, said her organization will know on Dec. 9 whether it has enough food and toys for the families it will serve this year.
"That's always the challenge," she said.
She said her organization budgets money to buy food, but relies on food drives organized by ACCESS Inc. through Oregon-based markets such as Fred Meyer, Ray's and Bi-Mart.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email email@example.com.