Every December, the holiday rush begins, shoppers head to stores or to their computers in search of the best deals on gifts for loved ones. However, many other Americans cannot afford to buy the bounty of presents that await families on Christmas morning. Person-to-Person, a volunteer-driven charity organization, has tried to change that.

For more than 30 years, Person-to-Person opens its "toy store" -- where children and their families who have been helped by Person-to-Person can receive a toy, book and game for the holidays.

Person-to-Person has given out more than 2,000 toys and books every year. This year, the organization's toy store distributed more than 4,000 toys to 650 local families -- which included 1,800 children -- from Dec. 13 to 15.

While parents search for the perfect gift for their children with the help of a Person-to-Person volunteer "elf," other volunteers keep children busy with fun activities and crafts ranging from Christmas coloring books to making handmade ornaments.

"Seeing the smiles on the faces of the parents," Ceci Maher, executive director of Person-to-Person, said about her favorite part about the toy store.

"I mean, we had one woman walk in and there was a Little Tikes car and she was just undone that she could take the Little Tike Car home for her son. And then another woman came in and saw a bike and she said, `could I possibly have that bike?' and I said, `of course you can,' and she started to cry. Seeing the joy on parents faces is definitely my favorite part," Maher said.

Throughout the year, Person-to-Person purchases items and collects donations of brand-new toys and books.

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"We work with corporations, individuals, schools, community groups and church groups that do toy drives for us. Scholastic Books sent us over 400 books for the toy drive this year for the kids. I would say 40 percent [of the toys] are purchased and 60 percent are donated," Maher said.

The organization has a strong group of volunteers, who begin the process in January and shop all of the sales throughout the year to get the best deals. Maher said now is the perfect time for volunteers to let Person-to-Person know if they would like to be a part of the 2013 toy store committee.

More families were eligible for the toy store this year than ever before. When a family has received aid from the organization six or more times over the course of a year they are eligible for the toy store. The recent economic downturn and climbing rates of unemployment and poverty can be attributed to the increase in demand for Person-to-Person's essential services, which include clothing and emergency food.

In February, Person-to-Person's food pantry will be depleted and will require more food donations to meet the needs of the organizations thousands of clients.

For information, call Janet King, director of volunteers, at 203-655-0048.