For years, they arrived in the quiet of the night, cloaked in anonymity and armed with a common mission: Deliver the Christmas spirit to Lubbock's needy children.
The Goodfellows program began as a shared child-centered vision of a handful of downtown businessmen in the 1930s, including O.J. "Bo" Sexton and Parker Prouty, former Avalanche-Journal president. The program continues today, having built a legacy of unsung heroes and unending smiles.
"One of the highlights for a lot of people around here on Christmas was to deliver those packages and see those smiles on the faces of the families as they delivered their gifts," said Jim Sexton, a local businessman and son of "Bo" Sexton, whose involvement in the organization began in 1934.
The A-J has been the program's champion through the years, creating awareness, promoting causes and providing coverage. Then the volunteers, under the direction of Chief Goodfellow, would line up and make it happen, Sexton said.
"Reese (Air Force Base) pitched in with trucks that brought the goods to the warehouse on the South Plains Fairgrounds," said Sexton, who served as Chief Goodfellow on several occasions. "For Christmas morning, a lot of organizations came out and helped pack gifts and deliver them.
"It was quite a sight. Lines of cars started forming at 11 p.m. on Christmas Eve. They would line up from the fairgrounds entrance all the way down East Broadway."
Volunteers would deliver the bags of goodies throughout the community, ensuring Christmas memories for some who might otherwise not have had them.
"Usually, we would disperse all the packages in about two and a half hours," he said.
It was something special to be a part of, said Lubbock City Council member Paul Beane, who was involved with the program for almost 15 years and also served as Chief Goodfellow.
"One of my most treasured jobs was serving as the load master, so to speak, loading the cars when they came through the fairgrounds," he said. "Later, when we had sacks that could not be delivered for one reason or another, it was my job to deliver those undeliverables, and often times we would work until as late as noon on Christmas making sure sacks were delivered."
Sexton's father was one of the program's greatest ambassadors. He was recognized by former Lubbock Mayor Bill McAlister for his 50 years of service to the organization. In fact, McAlister declared Dec. 23, 1982, O.J. "Bo" Sexton Day.
"The original intent was for children," Jim Sexton said. "My father became involved when the Depression was hitting everyone hard. He was part of a group of men who wanted to make sure every child got some candy, a piece of fruit, some nuts and a toy."
The Goodfellows program brought out the best in Lubbock's citizens, said Twila Aufill, who was involved with Goodfellows for 45 years during her tenure at The A-J.
"The wonderful people of Lubbock always responded, and we always had enough contributed to fulfill the children's Christmas," she said. "When we delivered the sacks to the children's homes, we had many cars lined up at the fairgrounds to deliver. It was a beautiful sight to behold on Christmas morning to greet our friends and wish them a Merry Christmas."
The scope of the program began to change in the early 1990s. Sexton said more and more local organizations became involved in Christmas projects, resulting in an overlap with the Goodfellows' mission.
"Over the last 20 years, a lot of other organizations have gotten involved in the spirit of Christmas and trying to do something to help others," he said. "We found we had a number of duplications between Goodfellows and others. Eventually, we chose not to have those duplications and decided not deliver the packages.
"Instead, the A-J would identify organizations to be helped with the funds that were collected."
Traditionally, The A-J begins Goodfellows coverage just after Thanksgiving, writing about the program in general and organizations that will benefit in particular during the weeks leading up to Christmas.
"It's kind of automatic for The A-J," Sexton said. "You really can't give The A-J enough credit for their efforts over the years of keeping this going. Every year, Goodfellows raises $25,000 to $30,000 to contribute. There are a lot of good causes, and Goodfellows really fits in the spirit of Christmas.
"A lot of people want to be a part of Goodfellows. It's a way for people to remember their loved ones. People who lost someone near to them can make a donation in their name and know it's going to a worthy cause."
A-J Publisher Steve Beasley said the paper is proud to carry on the program as long as readers want to support it.
Beasley, who served as Chief Goodfellow when he was the paper's advertising director, also remembered the long lines of cars at the fairgrounds.
"It was refreshing to see cars backed up at 11 at night ... congressmen, mayors, councilmen, ministers, civic leaders, teenagers ... people coming out to serve others," he said.
Beane said just being involved in Goodfellows was a reward.
"It was a heart-warming experience," he said. "When my two daughters got old enough, they were brought into the project, and for many, many years our family Christmas morning revolved around the Goodfellows schedule."
The program might have changed, but its impact continues to be felt, Aufill said.
"Since the format changed several years ago to donate funds to various organizations, the folks of Lubbock still continue to contribute," she said. "The dreams of the downtown Lubbock businessmen who started the program still exist."
Jim Sexton wouldn't have it any other way.
"My father wanted to be a part of the joy of Christmas," he said. "There was definitely a need for that in those days, a big-time need."