Leader Blues

Saturday, October 31, 2009

TOP STORY >> Angel Tree at Salvation Army takes donations to help needy

Maj. Diane Johnson of the Jacksonville Salvation Army holds two “angels” that will be available for adoption. The Angel Tree program begins on Friday, Nov. 13 and runs through Dec. 14. Donors are needed to help needy families.

Brandi Fisher, a Salvation Army volunteer, fills out paperwork to help a family applying for the Angel Tree program. The Jacksonville Salvation Army helps families in northern Pulaski County, Lonoke County and White County.

Leader editor

The holidays are fast-arriving and for many families who can afford to give, this is the season to do it.

Many families who need help can be seen waiting in a line outside the Salvation Army to receive assistance, according to Justin Simmons, who directs social services for the charity in Jacksonville.

Maj. Diane Johnson, who directs the Salvation Army in Jacksonville, and Simmons recently set up an angel tree in the office at 209 S. Oak St. The tree allows caring members of the community the opportunity to help families who can’t afford Christmas this year.

“In the past two days (the first days the tree was set up), 50-plus families have signed up (for help),” Simmons said.

Going by that number, he expects 25 families a day who will come into the Salvation Army looking for help to have Christmas this year.

That number shouldn’t be surprising, however heartbreaking, given increased unemployment this year.

Angels can be bought Friday, Nov. 13 through Dec. 14. The office is open from 9:30 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The office accepts clothing donations and canned foods and other non-perishables year round. For Christmas, Simmons said he would like to see all the donations that are given to families be new items.

Angels can also be bought by calling Simmons at 501-985-1331. “We’re also looking for bell ringers for the upcoming holiday season,” Simmons said.

Bell ringers can be seen standing outside popular stores like Knight’s and Walmart to collect Christmas donations for Salvation Army to give to the needy.

Volunteers are especially needed to buy angels, which represent specific families for whom Salvation Army has determined their needs. These are basic needs, Simmons said, that many might not even consider as usual Christmas gifts, such as clothing and shoes.

“We try to give children at least one toy,” Simmons added. “We also try to give a jacket, a shirt, a pair of pants, and hopefully a pair of shoes,” but there may not be enough donations to provide shoes this year, Simmons said.

In addition to donations, volunteers are badly needed to help out at the Jacksonville office.

Simmons handwrote and mailed about 300 letters to churches and other groups looking for volunteers but he didn’t hear back from many, he said, possibly because many churches and non-profit organizations are already busy providing for their members who need help this year.

“We don’t have enough volunteers this year,” he said.

Families who sign up for Christmas help will also be given $25 gift cards in place of a food basket, so volunteers can focus on getting clothing and gift donations together.

Many families depend on Salvation Army throughout the year for extra food.

Simmons said, “We depend solely on the community” for donations to help needy families. For now, the Christmas season has him working hard and hoping more volunteers will arrive soon.

“We’re trying to get Christmas for these kids,” Simmons said. “We want (them) to have smiles on their faces Christmas morning.”