The Salvation Army, Angels, Children and Christmas—A Blessed Combination
When I was growing up in West Virginia, both of my parents had to work to provide for me and my three siblings. We had a very loving family. No one loved Christmas more than my mother. She celebrated Christmas the entire year. My father did not like Christmas because he had to work for the postal service 10 plus hours a day, every day of the week leading up the late hours of Christmas Eve. We typically received several gifts for Christmas. We did not care about the quality or quantity of presents—just to have one nice present from loving parents meant the world to us.
I cannot begin to realize what it would be like for a child to wake up on Christmas morning without one present under the Christmas tree. For thousands of children across the country, I have just described their reality. To make a difference while doing the most good and to help meet this need, The Salvation Army created a National Angel Tree Program to provide as many happy Christmas mornings as possible.
The Angel Tree Program is one of The Salvation Army’s highest profile Christmas efforts. Angel Tree was created in 1979 by Salvation Army officers Majors Charles and Shirley White to provide clothing and toys for children at Christmas when they worked in a Lynchburg, Va., shopping mall. The goal of the program was to have “Angels” step up and help others.
The program got its name because the Whites identified the wishes of local children by writing their gift needs inside Hallmark greeting cards that featured pictures of angels. They placed the cards on a Christmas tree at the mall to allow shoppers to select children to help. Thanks to the Whites, more than 700 children had a brighter Christmas that first year. Three years later, when the Whites were transferred to Nashville, Tenn., Angel Tree was launched in the Music City. WSM Radio, which airs the Grand Ol’ Opry, came on board that year as the first Angel Tree co-sponsor in the U.S. CNN and Larry King Shows helped the program gain national visibility.
The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program provides new clothing and toys for children of families in need through the support of thousands of donors. Once a child has been registered as an Angel, The Salvation Army makes a promise to provide a Christmas for that child. This promise includes a variety of gifts for each child. Nationally, more than one million children who had to go without a Christmas now receive gifts. All these donors, who are anonymous, adopt these angels and make the holiday season brighter for both the giver and receiver. In many cases, parents of Angel families also received food, clothing and gift cards.
Thousands of Salvation Army officers, advisory board members, staff and volunteers work hundreds of hours in preparation for receiving and distributing Angel Tree packages before Christmas. Volunteers, for example, hear heartbreaking stories from struggling and even desperate families who have family members that are dying. Other family stories include those who have lost jobs, are fighting drug addiction, have split families where children have no parents and the list goes on. Individual, foundation, association, organization and corporate donations underwrite a large amount of the program expense. In many cases, The Salvation Army also must raise additional funds to underwrite program expenses.
In some cases, like in Indianapolis, The Salvation Army stepped in when another local agency changed its Christmas program model. This decision doubled the number of children served from 2017 to 2018, and now 5,276 children from 2,134 families receive assistance. In this area, large numbers of local businesses, churches, clubs and companies were invited to adopt large numbers of Angels through donations of time, talent and treasure.
The Salvation Army, Angels, children and Christmas represent a blessed combination. In Acts 20:35, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak,” remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” Children are vulnerable and have no choice in their circumstance. As you witness your Christmas morning, think about those in a different circumstance that have nothing. Please consider promoting philanthropy next year and support organizations across the country that make a difference to serve those in need. In my opinion, that will be your greatest and most important gift.
Happy Holidays to you and your family. I thank all of the most precious Angels who have faithfully helped needy children and their families this year!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.