Salvation Army Christmas gift program helps more than children
The main focus of The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program is children; however, they’re not the only ones who benefit from it. Also included in many cities’ programs are senior citizens.
“It’s something different to offer the community,” said Hopkinsville, KY social services worker Alisha Barton. “There’s a lot of focus on children, but then we also have a lot of seniors that live alone, and they appreciate that extra little surprise at Christmastime.”
Memphis Emergency Assistance Coordinator Latasha Strickland agreed. “I’m glad The Salvation Army reaches out to the seniors and not just the children. The seniors are just as special as the babies.”
The age of the seniors eligible for Angel Tree varies by Salvation Army location. For instance, in the Kentucky-Tennessee division, Chattanooga and Knoxville work with seniors age 60 and older, while in Memphis and Hopkinsville, KY, seniors must be 62. In some cities, the age is 65.
Seniors come to the program in different ways. Many come in through assisted living facilities. Some are found through city and county offices of aging, and others belong to their local Salvation Army corps. Some live in their own homes and also rely on The Salvation Army for food baskets. Still others are introduced to the program when they register the grandchildren who live with them and discover then that they also qualify.
“We really assist anyone who’s low income and 60 or older,” said Kimberly George, the Director of Marketing and Development at the Chattanooga Salvation Army. “So if they would not necessarily have a Christmas because they don’t have family support around, then The Salvation Army will assist them. Some are single seniors; some are taking care of their grandchildren. We have a lot of senior citizens who we help on a day-to-day basis as well.”
The gifts seniors asked for during Angel Tree generally are practical items. These include bedding, cookware (including crockpots and George Foreman grills), towels, toiletries and clothing. The most popularly requested clothing items are pajamas, robes, house shoes/slippers and jogging suits.
“A lot of them ask for basic, everyday needs that they utilize each day,” Strickland said.
Some big-ticket items seniors ask for are microwaves, TVs and digital cameras. Other items noted by Knoxville Angel Tree coordinator Quinton Brockman are puzzles, stationary, music, watches and Bibles.
In addition to these gifts, most Salvation Army locations also distribute food baskets for Angel Tree. In Hopkinsville, The Salvation Army does not do this, but that’s simply because churches and other organizations do. Instead, The Salvation Army simply takes its gifts there to be added to the baskets.
“A church might call me and say they want to take 150 baskets, so I typically give the seniors to them and then I take their gifts to that church so they don’t have to make two trips,” Barton said.
That plan shows how senior Angel Tree distribution differs from the Angel Tree distribution for children. While some senior angels go to that main distribution to receive their gifts, many others’ gifts are dropped off at their senior facility or home. Also, in some cities, if seniors attend programs at their neighborhood Salvation Army, their gifts will be brought there for distribution.
Brockman noted that one of the county offices on aging has a Christmas party and that’s when those seniors receive their presents. “The first year we did it, they let me be Santa Claus,” he said happily.
The amount of seniors on the Angel Tree varies greatly by location, but it’s always a small portion of the total Angel Tree number. In Memphis, for instance, while there are approximately 1,000 senior angels, that is less than 1/5 of the 5,500 total this year.
Regardless, the seniors who participate are extremely excited about and thankful for Angel Tree.
“They’re so happy and so overwhelmed that someone has shopped for them,” Strickland said. “It touches them big time to know that people care. And when they get guests coming to bring the gifts, they get so excited to have company.”
Brockman added, “When you give a gift to a senior, they love that because a lot of them get forgotten about by their family; their kids have their own families to take care of now, so they get put in senior citizen facilities and feel like [their families] don’t have time for them.
“When we come and bring their gifts, they wait all year for this. It’s like ‘Somebody remembers me!’ They enjoy us letting them know they are cared for and not forgotten.
“I feel as long as we can keep doing that, it’s a great success,” he concluded. “The senior program, I think, is the greatest thing ever. At some point, I’d like to see it grow with all Salvation Armies.”