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‘Rescue Christmas’ under way

Salvation Army seeks gift donations, spots for Angel Trees

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Oct 15, 2020

“Rescue Christmas” for all angels has become the major push for the Salvation Army in Lee, Hendry and Glades as they see the needs of families skyrocket for its annual Angel Tree program.

“We don’t want any child to be forgotten this Christmas, but we need the community’s help to Rescue Christmas for the Salvation Army and that is a nationwide plea,” Salvation Army in Lee, Hendry and Glades Area Commander Major Charlotte Gargis said. “Our nation is seeing the needs skyrocket. We have already had people call and say I have never had to ask for help. I have always worked and provided for my children. We were the one adopting angels, but got laid off, or business closed due to this virus. Now they are seeking help from the Salvation Army.”

The Angel Tree program came into existence due to the traditional Salvation Army service of helping families at Christmas.

“A Salvation Army officer about 35 years ago coined the phrase ‘the Angel Tree’ as part of their Christmas assistance program,” she said, adding that the angel tag became its symbol as a way to identify the children who need assistance. “Every angel tag represents a child. We commit to their families that we are going to take care of their child and that is our commitment to our community.”

This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, that need has heightened.

Last year the Salvation Army had more than 4,000 angels in its three county area. This year they have already bypassed that number. Families are applying for assistance online, instead of in person, so Salvation Army can practice social distancing during the pandemic.

It has been predicted that the nationwide need has increased 155 percent.

“Because of the pandemic, there are layoffs. There are whole businesses that have shut down.” Gargis said.

In turn, she said a lot of people don’t have the same giving capability. It has been predicted nationwide that giving will decrease 50 percent this year.

“We have a huge gap to fill. We usually take applications for assistance on up until the last of October, but we have already bypassed what we did last year and right now we have less than half of the sponsors, or hosts to take the angels,” Gargis said.

When a parent applies for assistance, they are asked a specific wish of what their child would have for Christmas, a specific need the child would have and their clothing size. The information is collected and printed on an angel tag, along with the child’s first name and age. The community then purchases new items, as the Salvation Army wants the child to a have a new gift of their very own to open on Christmas.

“It gives the donors, people that are shopping, a guide of what they can get to really fulfill the wishes and needs for this child for Christmas,” Gargis said. “It’s an effective tool that has been very helpful for people to know exactly what to donate and to purchase.”

Every year, the Salvation Army depends on the community, either through toy drives, or adoption of the angels to fulfil the program’s needs. This year the need is very high and the Salvation Army is seeking those businesses, churches and families who are able to host an angel tree, or adopt an angel.

“They commit to filling those angels and then return the gifts to us before our deadline,” she said, which is Dec. 1. “We need help adopting all angels that we have and will have.”

Gargis said the community can also hold a toy drive, or give monetary donations to support the Angel Tree program.

The urgency is meeting their Dec. 1 deadline. This deadline gives them two weeks to sort and organize the presents to be delivered to the children the week of Dec. 14.

Traditionally, about 15 percent of the angels that are taken do not get returned, therefore leaving the Salvation Army to purchase the gifts for those angels. That is when the toy drives, or monetary donations make a huge difference, as they help in filling the gaps.

“Our community is very generous when they know the need. Our biggest challenge is getting the word out,” Gargis said.

Those who wish to adopt an angel can do so at http://bit.ly/OnlineAngelTree. Organizations, businesses, church groups, or others who want to host an Angel Tree can do so by visiting http://bit.ly/HostAnAngelTree. Some people are also ordering the gifts on Amazon and sending them to the Salvation Army.

Gargis said any kind of business can adopt, or host an Angel Tree, adding it’s a fun way to celebrate Christmas and serve those in need.

Individuals can also call 239-278-1551 to adopt angels. Gargis said some families call to adopt as many as 10 angels.

“We like to create Christmas traditions for people to adopt an angel,” she said. “It teaches us gratitude and if we are doing it with our family it teaches our children to be grateful, serve and give back.”