Angel Tree Project, The Salvation Army
Say "Salvation Army" and I think strip mall thrift store and man ringing red kettle at Christmas. Shame on me for not having a broader understanding of this organization whose name is synonymous with charity! The Salvation Army, founded over 150 years ago, is a Christian international charitable organization that serves the needs of our youth, homeless, at-risk, and addicted in a quasi-military fashion. It also provides disaster and humanitarian relief and has members in about 128 countries.
Today, I reported for duty at the local chapter's Angel Tree Project. You've seen it before - those big trees in the mall or in the lobby of your office building that have tag ornaments listing a child's name, age, size, and holiday wish list. My family has participated in similar "adopt-a-child" holiday projects before so I thought I had an idea of what I was volunteering for and boy, did I underestimate what the experience would be. What I thought would be just a feel-good holiday project, turned into a holiday miracle of sorts as my whole perspective of my community's generosity changed. I was completely blown away by the generosity of ordinary people - strangers in my community - and am left with such hope and positivity. Isn't that refreshing? ...
Our local Angel Tree Project, now in its 35th year, will provide holiday gifts for almost 13,000 children who otherwise would not have. When I say, "gifts," I mean sacks and sacks of multiple, generous, and thoughtful new gifts. My job today (and later in the week as I loved this too much to make it "one and done") was to greet each gift-giver, identify their "Angel" (recipient), and prepare their gifts for check in. Folks came in one-by-one, as couples, and parents came in with their children to model charity. Churches and office administrators who coordinated multiple donors came in by the truck and car full making several trips inside to deliver their loot. I was overwhelmed with the quality and quantity of gifts that were delivered. First, almost every other person came in with a new bicycle or large item like a dollhouse or play kitchen. These items were either previously assembled or were delivered in a box for an "elf" to put together. (That's a whole other story as 2 older men worked tirelessly in the back assembling bike after bike - without losing their cool, cursing, or acting frustrated! I don't know men like that.) These big-ticket items weren't the only gifts either; there were also newly purchased clothes, books, and stocking stuffers to go with. When, on the rare occasion, the bag was a bit light, I "shopped" the tables set up to complete each bag. Babies received play mats, diapers, rattles, and clothes. Young children got bikes, new shoes, books, trains, and action figures. Older kids received sports equipment, electronic note pads with accessories, and other high-tech gifts. Several donors shopped for multiple children and were exponentially generous. At the end of my day, a full-size gymnasium had lines of gift bags from basket to basket spanning the entire gym. Bikes lined the perimeter and, after looking at that room, I started to believe in Santa Claus!
Thanks to the kindness and generosity of strangers, almost 13,000 children AND their parents will smile Christmas morning - the children because they have shiny new gifts and the parents who will have the peace and dignity associated with having beautiful gifts for their children. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to work the gift pick up, but was going to be out of town. Next year for sure! Wanna join me?
My Takeaways: (1) Economic and social status is NOT commensurate with generosity! Generosity and believing that there is a duty to help others is a value that you either have or don't (though you can learn to have it). In my experience, those with far less than others give far more. I'm positive that most Angel Tree donors were as generous to their unknown "angels" as they were to their own kids for Christmas. The quality of the gifts were so high it wasn't a matter of getting your kids the best and giving strangers something less than. In fact, it could have been the other way around. Each sack of gifts averaged $60-100 easily and the ones with bicycles so much more. The man who rings up your groceries or the woman who schedules your dental appointment could be far more generous than anyone you know. Are you as generous as you could be - as you should be? (2) As parents, we want to provide as much as we can for our children. That too is a value that is not associated with economic status. The rich, comfortable, and needy all want the same thing for their families. Think about those who can't adequately heat their homes or who can't stock the pantry with food. What about the moms who must ask their sons to wear tight shoes awhile longer before getting a bigger pair or the frilly little girl who must wear her brother's hand-me-down coat? Some might say that if parents can't provide these basic necessities, why should money be spent on Christmas gifts? Christmas, I have learned, can often be symbolic of more than just a holiday. It can be an expression of hope, celebration, and can also provide a break from a difficult day-to-day in a meaningful way. Don't judge. It doesn't have to be giving a holiday gift OR helping in another way; make it both!! (3) Some of the big charitable organizations make the headlines for scandalous or negative reasons and people can grow cynical. The Salvation Army is a big name and is doing great things. I thank them for welcoming me. I felt like an "angel" as well! - Happy Holidays!