Organization looks to help families in need during the holiday season
By Nicholas Elmes
Traditionally Christmas has been a time of bounty and joy, but for many families in the St. Louis area, figuring out how to afford to buy presents for their children can be a herculean task.
Thankfully hundreds of volunteers and generous donors are there to help, many directing their kindness through the Salvation Army.
This year the organization will help thousands of local families through three separate programs, according to Midland Division Director of Communications Jack Wang.
He said one of the main programs, the Angel Tree Program, allows local business and shopping centers to host an Angel Tree, which is decorated with ornaments containing information about needy children.
“Individual angels are adopted and items are purchased by donors specifically for that child and the gifts are returned to The Salvation Army. Parents pick up gifts from The Salvation Army site they applied at,” said Wang. “Families sign up for angel tree program through one of five Salvation Army sites; Maplewood Corps, Euclid Corps, Temple Corps, Gateway Corps or Family Haven. On the application, parents identify the toy preferences for their child.”
People looking to help a needy child through the Angel Tree program can do so through the Salvation Army division headquarters by calling the Christmas receptionist at 314-646-3159. Angels are also available at South County Mall.
The Adopt-A-Family program is aimed at helping families that have dealt with a major crisis during the past year.
“Families are nominated by various social service agencies because the family has had a significant challenge throughout the year (illness, fire, layoff, etc) and donors are matched to families to purchase gifts for the family,” said Wang. “Gifts are brought to The Salvation Army and families pick up the gifts at our divisional headquarters.”
The final program, Toy Town, allows needy families to directly pick out toys for their children from a collection of donated toys.
“Families also receive a food voucher for their Christmas meal,” said Wang.
He said this year 3,000 children will be helped through the Angel Tree program, 2,000 families will be helped through Toy Town, and 150 families are up for adoption through the Adopt-A-Family program.
“130 organizations will be assisted with Toys for Tots gifts representing over 16,000 children,” said Wang. “We will also provide 1,000 families without children with a grocery store voucher to purchase items for their holiday meal.”
Wang said the organization’s ability to help so many people during the Christmas holiday was due to key partnerships with some of St. Louis’s largest corporations and small businesses. He said hundreds of volunteers were also key to the success of the organization’s Christmas support each year.
“We have several hundreds of volunteers which include individuals and corporations that are helping at our warehouse sorting and bagging toys, Angel Tree sponsors which provide a child with toys for Christmas, food pantry helpers and bell ringers,” said Wang. “
He noted that bell ringers are especially important, saying that a manned donation kettle can bring in around $30 in donations per hour.
Those interested in volunteering as a bell ringer should contact Volunteer Manager Shawndell Williams at 314-646-3166.
But all of the work, from the time spent in the cold by bell ringers, to the money spent by generous donors shopping for an “angel” is worth it when it brings smiles, or tears, to the faces of those families who are helped through the program.
“Last year through the Adopt-A-Family program we had a family of six that lost many of their belongings due to a bed bug infestation,” said Wang. “The caseworker that submitted their story wrote that the kids were sleeping on blow-up mattresses on the floor and had to discard many of their belongings. Through the generous donors of the Adopt-A-Family program, this family received five mattresses and box springs along with a two bedroom sets for the children in addition to gift items for the children and the parents. The couple was so overwhelmed by the generosity that they stood in our parking lot and cried and all of the staff present cried along with them. It was an honor to see their holiday wish come true and know that people in our community wanted the children and parents to have comfortable beds to sleep on for the holidays.”
If you would like to donate to the Salvation Army’s Christmas efforts you can do so by visiting stlsalvationarmy.org and clicking on “Ways to give,” calling 1-800-Sal-ARMY, or texting “TREEOFLIGHTS” to 41444.
CUTLINE: Photo by Nicholas Elmes The Salvation Army Brass Band performs at the Festival of Lights which kicked off the holiday giving season in St. Louis this year.