Angel tree ensures children get a good Christmas
KIM DAMEEach year, in time for Black Friday shoppers, a Christmas tree goes up inside Walmart, decorated with tags that display the name, age and three wishes from local child in need. Each tag is part of the Angel Tree program, a function of the Salvation Army that helps provide a better Christmas for those who might otherwise go without.
Published: December 29, 2012
Published: December 29, 2012
And each year, Amy Leonard of Brooksville chooses a name, purchases the gifts on the list, and returns them to the customer service counter prior to the deadline. It is a simple act of kindness, she said, one she hopes will bring a smile to the child she picked on Christmas morning.
Leonard is not alone. Hundreds of tags are taken each season from the trees. It has become another huge effort by the local Salvation Army to help bring joy to needy families at Christmas time.
Local Salvation Army Captain Gilde Prieto said the system is designed to fulfill dreams on Christmas morning for every child on the Angel Tree list. And the number this year was well into the hundreds.
The community has always been generous, she said. But this year, the toys were even better.
The Angel Tree program is part of the Holiday assistance offered by the Salvation Army, which begins its registration each year in September.
According to Captain Josue Prieto there were 389 families served for Thanksgiving and Christmas (1,073 individuals), and 574 children received Angel Tree bags.
The Angel Tree process begins after registration, with each child logged into a computer database and issued a tag with their first name and three gifts they want for Christmas. The tags are hung on the branches of the trees on display at various locations, including Walmart stores, Oak Hill Hospital and Challenger K-8, to name a few.
Each tag that is adopted is then returned to the same location with the gifts, where they will await pickup from a Salvation Army representative.
In an empty storefront in the Winn-Dixie shopping center on Broad Street all the gifts from the Angel Tree program were brought in, sorted and entered into the database. Sheets of paper with each child's name were taped to the empty floor. And gifts filled the spots as they were collected.
By Dec. 20, distribution day, the floor was filled with gifts, bundled in clear bags with the Salvation Army logo. Bigger gifts were attached alongside and a sticker system was used to identify those children who had requested bicycles.
Every item was organized into the database, identified by the child's name and tag number.
The system, Prieto said, was designed to ensure each child received as close to the items on their list as possible. If they came up short, the volunteers would then scramble to fill the missing item, if possible, with a surplus gift item.
On the day of distribution, Prieto said four appointments were scheduled every six minutes to avoid confusion. Families showed up and waited outside the store until their ticket was verified. A representative or volunteers then brought the gifts out front.
Families came and went, holding the ticket they received in the mail for their appointment.
Like Pamela Kamen, who came to pick up gifts for her 6-year-old son, Ryan. Kamen, whose family relies on her income alone, said she would not have been able to provide much of a Christmas for Ryan without the Salvation Army's help.
"He would have gotten gifts from the dollar store," she said. Instead, she went home with a bag filled with several different types of toys.
Perhaps no one was more profoundly touched than Anita Miller, a mother of four who had recently lost everything in a robbery.
She had taken part in the Angel Tree program before and had always welcomed the help. But this year the generosity was even more heart-felt. Her eyes moistened when as volunteers rolled out four bikes and bags filled with other toys.
The program involves a lot more behind the scenes than most realize. Gilde Prieto said they start preparing for the next year as soon as the last toys are gone. They hold staff meetings to determine what worked and what they could do to make other things better. Then, in July, they begin looking for a new space to hold the gifts.
It takes a lot of dedication from the Salvation Army and its volunteers to bring such a program to fruition. But the Salvation Army is known for making a difference in the communities they serve.
The Red Kettle Drive, for instance, earned a total of $110,000 in the three weeks the Bell Ringers were out in Hernando County. That is a 20 percent increase from last year, said Josue Prieto.