A Modern-Day Santa: The Salvation Army's Angel Tree
Christmas is a special day in the lives of millions of people each year. Amid the stress and strain of daily living, we stop for at least one day to share faith, hope and love with each other. It is a time for families to bond and renew their sense of commitment. For older adults, it is a time to reflect. For younger children, it is a time to experience the total joy of gift-giving, Santa Claus and what Christmas is all about. Many of us also take the time to reflect on the birth of Jesus Christ. It is a unique time that is full of anticipation and expectation. If the weather cooperates, a glimmer of snow may decorate the air.
For the majority of us, when you say the word Christmas, you see a smile. However, if you are in need or despair, you may dread Christmas. This is especially true of Christmas morning because you may have nothing under your tree to share with your children. Fortunately, The Salvation Army recognized this sad situation and did something about it.
Along with the familiar red kettles, the Angel Tree program has become one of The Salvation Army’s highest-profile Christmas efforts. The Salvation Army’s Majors Charles and Shirley White created the Angel Tree Christmas program in 1979. The Salvation Army officers worked with a Lynchburg, Va., shopping mall to provide clothing and toys for needy children at Christmastime. Since then, the tradition has spread across the country and is now the cornerstone of The Salvation Army’s Christmas assistance efforts. In my position at The Salvation Army’s divisional headquarters in Indianapolis, I was able to witness this miraculous program firsthand when it came to central Indiana for the first time this fall.
There are children in every community who live in struggling households where there is a lack of money, unemployed or underemployed parents, poor or limited housing and daily food struggles, according to The Salvation Army. Some families who had little to start now have less, and parents are working harder every day to make it to tomorrow. As these moms and dads struggle to keep afloat, they question how they can give even one present to their child on Christmas morning. The Salvation Army believes every child deserves to experience the joy of opening a gift on Christmas morning. Because of supporters of this program, almost one million American children will find gifts under their trees this year, toys and clothing lovingly wrapped and labeled by grateful parents.
The Angel Tree program is simple in concept and involves two stages. During the first stage in October and November, parents in need of help providing for their children go to various The Salvation Army facilities, which are called corps. The corps are community centers where parents will find a chapel for prayer, a social service office and a community center with daily activities for all ages. Many corps also have a gymnasium where recreational sports and other athletic activities are held.
Families whose incomes fall below national poverty guidelines qualify for Angel Tree assistance. Once validated, parents list the names of each child, “Angel,” in the family. Information also is gathered on the child’s gender, age and special Christmas wants and needs. In many cases these wants and needs include coats, shirts, socks, toothbrushes and toys. One Angel in Indianapolis was even in need of a bed. It is all about meeting children’s needs. In each case children receive new items. In its first year in central Indiana, the Angel Tree program helped to provide Christmas for 4,042 children from 1,700 families who signed up for the program.
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last nine years and has had the CFRE designation for the last 25 years. He has also been a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for over 35 years. He received his doctorate from West Virginia University with an emphasis in philanthropy, masters from Marshall University with an emphasis on resource development and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with emphasis in marketing/management. Currently he is executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org.