Thoughts of Christmas always bring one image to mind - the sparkle in a child's eyes as they tear into brightly decorated gifts.

But for many children, the holiday season would add up to disappointment if area businesses and organizations didn't ban together to ensure that every child has a gift to unwrap Christmas morning.

This year, as many families continue struggle to make ends meet, they can rest assured that Santa will make his annual stop thanks to the support from a community united in the spirit of the season.

For Santa's helpers looking to extend some much needed holiday cheer, an array of charitable campaigns are currently under way.

Stephenville Optimist Club

It's the club's biggest project of the year.

While the Stephenville Optimist Club is known across the county for delivering gifts to children - playground equipment at area schools and parks, a scout house for local troops, scholarship endowments and more - Diane Stokes, co-chair of the club's annual Toys for Tots drive, said the project has the greatest impact on local children. 

"It is our biggest project of the year due to the number of children that are impacted," Stokes said.

The 2009 Christmas toy campaign delivered gifts to 338 Erath County children. She said all of the projects the Optimists take on have a lasting impact on local children.

"Toys for Tots gives an individualized feel to the club's mission," Stokes said.

To make the mission possible, the club hosts an annual golf tournament, and according to club member Charlie Finnegan, who co-chaired this year's tournament along with Optimist Darrell Thompson, money raised through sponsorships and registration fees will go a long way this Christmas.

Finnegan said almost $4,000 was raised during the event, held in October.

But the toy drive is far from over, according to Stokes.

Today, Black Friday bargain hunters will have a chance to contribute to the campaign as members of the Stephenville Professional Firefighters Association collect toys outside Wal-Mart SuperCenter from 5:30 a.m - 2 p.m. The firefighters will also collect toys at Wal-Mart on Saturday from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. and again on Saturday, Dec. 4 and Saturday Dec. 11 from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.

On Dec. 2, Tarleton Athletics will encourage Texan basketball fans to participate in the county-wide toy drive as attendees to the doubleheader, which will be held at Wisdom Gym, can get free admission to the games with a new, unwrapped toy donation.

The TexAnns will take the court at 6 p.m. with the Texans game tipping off at 8 p.m. 

Santa's helpers unable to deliver donations to either drive are encouraged to contact Stokes at 968-2716 or co-chair Bettye Key at 965-2566 to arrange delivery. Cash donations are also accepted at Bealls,

To qualify to receive gifts from the campaign, families must submit applications through H.O.P.E., Inc. Children must reside in Erath County and be 16 years old or younger.

"Parents or caregivers sign the children up, the club purchases the toys and prepares them for pick up," Stokes said.

Community members are encouraged to help purchase toys on Thursday, Dec. 16, at 6 a.m. at Wal-Mart, bag toys at 5 p.m. on the same day at the Foster's Home for Children and distribute gifts on Sunday. Dec. 19, from 2-4 p.m. and Monday, Dec. 20, from 5-7 p.m. at the Foster's Home.

For more information, call the organization at 965-2700.

Christian Classic Cruisers

On Saturday, local car and motorcycle enthusiasts will converge on the Bosque River Center to show off their rides while collecting toys for charity.

The club is encouraging automobile lovers to park their pride in the shopping center parking lot for others to enjoy, and is also asking participants and show-goers to bring a toy for area children.

The show will begin at 2 p.m.

For more information, contact Israel Perez at 592-3538.

Angel Trees

For Santa's helpers looking to spread some holiday cheers can also take part in several Angel Tree campaigns current underway across the city of Stephenville.

The Meals on Wheels Angel Tree is located inside of the Stephenville Senior Citizens Center, located at 164 East College Street.

The annual campaign, works to distribute cheer to elderly and disabled Meals on Wheels of Erath County clients.

The MOW angels include the wants and needs of MOW clients. To participate, simply pick an angel or two and go shopping.

Gifts must be returned to the Senior Center by Friday, Dec. 10.

The Stephenville Kiwanis Club Angel Trees are located at Coldwell Banker Preferred Properties, located at 2441 Northwest Loop in Stephenville, and Staples at 200 Wolfe Nursery Road in Stephenville.

The Kiwanis angels benefit children who are under the supervision of Child Protective Services and the CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) for the Cross Timbers Area. 

The deadline for the Kiwanis campaign is Tuesday, Dec. 14. For more information, contact Coldwell Banker at 965-7775 or Staples at 965-8500.

First Financial Bank, FMC Technologies and Community Nursing and Rehabilitation are also hosting Angel Tree gift drives, sponsored by the Stephenville Lions Club. The deadline for the  Lions Club trees is Sunday, Dec. 12.

Angel Trees can also be found at Fibergrate and Town & County Bank in Stephenville, the deadlines are Monday, Dec. 13 and Friday, Dec. 10. respectively. 

And JC Penney has taken their Angel Giving Tree efforts to the World Wide Web. An online Angel Tree can be found at http://angel.jcpenney.com/.

Finally, an annual campaign to "Shine a Light on a Soldier's Child" is currently underway.

The Family Readiness Group is collecting toys for all ages to be distributed to local children whose parents are currently serving the nation through military service.

Toys will be accepted through Friday, Dec. 3 at the Texas National Guard Armory.

For more information, contact Maria Daniels at 592-1456.