"It's a busy night:" Volunteers spend Christmas Eve distributing winter gear to those in need

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Generosity is often synonymous with the holidays. This Christmas Eve, hundreds lined up in MIlwaukee to take coats and hats donated by local church groups. For volunteers, it's a humbling experience. Those on the receiving end say it can be life-altering.

Looking around and seeing piles of winter clothing stuffed in boxes brings a moment of reflection for Demetrius Wilson.

"A lot of people need coats and I see a lot of people out here without coats and hats and gloves," Wilson said.

This Christmas Eve Wilson spent time volunteering with Shalom Ministries for the first time -- helping out with their annual Christmas Eve coat giveaway.

"My heart goes out to them.  You never know what they are going through," Wilson said.

It is a unique event that has taken place near Madison and 10th Street in Milwaukee for more than a decade.

"Everything we give away here is new and it`s wonderful.  A lot of folks, they need it -- physically and spiritually,"

It takes months to fill a semi-trailer with all the winter gear.

17-year-old Rachel Overland helped to distribute the items Wednesday, December 24th. On Christmas Eve, she said there's nowhere she'd rather be.

"It`s a great way to step outside of the stereotypical Christmas where it`s gifts and sitting around the tree and stuff," Overland said.

The line of folks waiting for winter gear wrapped around the corner.

"We get about 400+. It's a busy night. We ask people - are they 'inside' or 'outside?' If they are outside, we give them a sleeping bag and things for outside,"

Two years ago, Wayne Thompson was one of those in line.

"I was staying under a bridge on 76th Street in West Allis. A guy said he knew of a place where I could get a coat," Thompson said.

Thompson says a long black coat, a sleeping bag and an invitation to a Bible study changed his life forever.

"Since then, I`ve been with Shalom and it`s my privilege to serve those less fortunate than I am," Thompson said.

And at the center of it all...

"That's what we're here to celebrate: the birth of Christ," Thompson said.

Organizers say half the people who showed up to receive these items are homeless.

Shalom Ministries hosts events like this throughout the year, but they say the event on Christmas Eve is always the largest.