Alicia Robinson strode down an open aisle at the West End Kmart on Saturday morning, her hands clutching several overstuffed plastic shopping bags.
They were filled with winter gear and clothes for her sons, 6-year-old Xavier and 5-year-old Zeke, who followed behind, tugging excitedly at the bags. Volunteers spent about 30 minutes with the boys and about 130 other children, picking out items they needed for the Salvation Army's Dress a Child program.
"I had tears in my eyes when they called and said we could do this," said Robinson. "This time of year is really hard. It was truly a blessing."
The program has been going in Billings for more than 30 years. Each year, the Salvation Army matches volunteers — made up of folks from businesses and organizations as well as residents — with children from families who might not otherwise be able to afford the clothing.
This year, the program will serve about 300 area children. Each child gets about $100 worth of clothing. Last weekend, the same event was held at the Heights Walmart and is scheduled again for the West End Walmart on Dec. 18.
"It's helping to supply some warm winter clothing for children that are in need," said Darlene Johnson, who organized the event and is the Salvation Army's receptionist and intake counselor.
Each volunteer was matched up with a child — whose parents waited elsewhere — and they scoured the store for items based on need determined by the parents but picked out by the kids.
Fifty members of the Breakfast Exchange Club helped kids find new clothes Saturday. The local service organization, which is devoted to supporting needy and at-risk children, has been involved in Dress a Child for more than a decade.
"This is one of the events that we hold near to our hearts because these are kids," said Dave Staton, the club's president-elect and publicity chairman. "There's members in our club that belong to our service organization because of Dress a Child. The kids are grinning from ear to ear. I mean, they are. They're happy."
Much of the club's money comes from beer sales at MetraPark, which was devastated by a tornado earlier this year. Staton said that, while it was a blow, it hasn't stopped the club's efforts. They cut a check for $5,000 to Kmart on Saturday for the event, the same amount they have done for years.
Jenna Fiscus is a 17-year-old senior at West High. She participated in Dress a Child the previous two years through school clubs, but decided to do it on her own this year.
"It's just really fun, and the kids are so cute," she said while helping a little boy pick out a new pair of shoes adorned with his favorite professional wrestlers. "It always seems like they're really thankful that people are willing to help them out."
For Robinson and her two boys, it means they won't have to worry about finding the extra cash to help keep them warm this winter.
"It's just such a good time of year to do this," she said "I'm excited to take it home and see what they've got."