The holidays weren't going to be the same as past ones for Evelyn Perez and her 12-year-old granddaughter after Perez was unable to work because of an illness.
With no money for gifts and decorations, Perez was not going to be able to give her granddaughter the Christmas she had hoped.
"We were cutting out construction paper for a tree to hang up on the wall," said Perez, who wasn't able to afford a Christmas tree.
Favors Forward Foundation makes sure that 25 local families who are dealing with hardships still have a merry Christmas.
But the Perez family would have more of holiday than they ever had imagined, thanks to local volunteers at Favors Forward Foundation.
"They're angels, is how I can describe them," Perez said. "If it were not for them, I would not have had the Christmas I had. They're very loving and caring. They truly, truly love the work they're doing and they truly love people."
Each year, Favors Forward selects 25 local families who are experiencing hardships to help during the holiday season.
"(The program looks) to make sure that some families that are experiencing extreme hardships ... are able to have a nice holiday," said Valerie Robitaille, executive director of Favors Forward.
Christy Allen, foundation secretary and corporate contact, said hardships range from the loss of a job to a medical problem.
"We touch people that are down and out and will rise again," Allen said.
Families are referred to Favors Forward by local agencies, neighbors, school districts and others.
Allen has participated in the program for 10 years and said she was inspired to help by founder Beth McMahon.
"When I saw the good work that (McMahon) was doing, I decided, personally, to take on a special family, as well," she said.
Steve Wiser, assistant football coach at Lycoming College, and his wife, Pam, learned of Favors Forward after looking for ways to get the team involved in the community. He added that being able to help is "great."
"There are a lot of needy people that are not as fortunate (and) blessed as we have been," Wiser said.
Volunteers helped families, like Perez's, with gifts, food and household items.
"They went out of their way. We didn't even have a tree. (A volunteer) came by two days before Christmas with a tree with all of the trimmings," an emotional Perez said. "Because of them we had a Christmas. We truly had a Christmas."
And although Favors Forward usually only helps a family for one year, a special exception was made at the request of Tracy Haas, of West Branch Human Resource Society.
Haas said she made the request after learning that the family the group adopted last year was having more medical hardships.
"They were just trying to keep everything normal and calm for the kids. So for us to help them ... that allowed them to focus on their family," she said.
Allen said as much of a great experience it is for the families, the volunteers get just as much pleasure.
"It almost makes me feel like Santa Claus. And it is just a rewarding experience to be able to help others in need. It's the best feeling in the entire world," she said.
"It's great. It's better than receiving any gift to see those smiles," Wiser added.
But no material item was as great of a gift as the restored hope Perez received from the volunteers, she said.
Working as a corrections officer in New York, Perez decided to move to the area to start her own business. But an illness derailed the dream and she no longer is able to work or provide for her granddaughter.
"I lost my hope," she said.
But Favors Forward helped to change that this holiday season.
"They're just so loving. And you know, you can tell when someone truly, truly cares and they don't even know me," Perez said.
Haas added that through her experience, it make the holidays special.
"It just really solidified the magic of the season and truly what Christmas is about, which is love and caring of others. I said I got my gift that night," she said.
And Perez added that after receiving help to "get over the hump," she wants to make a difference in someone's life, which is the goal of Favors Forward. The organization requires those helped by it to in turn "pay it forward" by helping someone else in need.
"They helped me with things for my home. It makes me want to do the same for someone else - to give my time, my help to someone else," Perez said.