NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Christmas came early for military families in the Bronx Friday.

CBS2’s Lou Young was on hand when they brought in the big man to do the honors at the Bronx Zoo.

Walking in with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., Santa arrived at the zoo with early gifts for military families.

The jolly old man brought hundreds of toys—boxes full of cheer– as a great way for the city to say thanks to those that served.

“It’s great to have someone thank you for your service. And there’s something for the kids and everything’s free,” Maj. Will Hofmann said.

“It makes me feel appreciated. My kids were mad because we should have got here earlier, but they had big tests,” Staff Sgt. Jay Ordinez said.

The toys were collected by school children and the folks at the Wildlife Conservation Society with the knowledge that after a decade of overseas wars, some military families are having a tough time.

“It was hard in the beginning, yes it was,” Army veteran Michael Marquez said.

“If it weren’t for the people welcoming us back, it would be a whole lot worse that it could be coming home,” Staff Sgt. Kevin Heegwood said.

“I feel honored, I feel grateful, I feel appreciated,” U.S. Marine veteran Leah Nelson said.

The toy program is coordinated by Diaz Jr. Toy donors get free tickets to the zoo, which remains open in the winter.

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