Louisville Angel Tree

Louisville mom thankful for Christmas assistance program

Nashika is a single mother in Louisville, who lives with her four daughters in The Salvation Army shelter until they find permanent housing. Among her children are 9-year-old Wilaysha and 12-year-old India, who are participating in the Angel Tree program this year.

Angel Tree is for children ages newborn to 12 and, in many locations, also seniors. With it, people adopt an angel (or more than one) from a tree at various retail locations and restaurants. The tag they are given lists the recipient’s age, gender, clothing sizes and gift wishes

The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program helps more than a million U.S. children each Christmas.

The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program helps more than a million U.S. children each Christmas.

Nashika’s family, which includes 15-year-old Danielle and 13-year-old Taliyah, has taken part in Angel Tree several times over the years. She said, though, that when the family is doing OK, she leaves the spaces for others who need them.

This year, unfortunately, isn’t one of those years, so she is grateful to have Angel Tree fulfill her younger daughters’ gifts, letting her spend her money on her older daughters. Also, Nashika, who has another child due this spring, said some of the gifts the younger girls will likely get will be things the whole family can enjoy.

“Games, of course, they’re going to love because we’re so close and we do a lot of things together, so that’s always a plus. And, oh my, the books! Because it’s so different from the way they would pick books, when they start reading them, they just get indulged. So they love the books and ask for them every year we sign up.”

Puzzles are also something all the girls enjoy. They’re especially good for Wilaysha, Nashika said, because she’s very active and has trouble focusing, so working them helps her with that.

In addition to games, books and puzzles, Wilaysha also loves movies while India likes to draw and create complex art projects (as does Taliyah). They and their older sisters also love dancing and music, as well as fashion accessories like purses, stud earrings, colorful bracelets, flower headbands and clear lip gloss.

Nashika said of her daughters and their interests, “I try to keep them simple, so they’ll be able to have more based on what they want.”

The one thing they’ve all asked for in the past and haven’t received is a bike. “That’s what they’ve wanted the most.”

Part of the problem is bikes are expensive, so The Salvation Army doesn’t get nearly as many donated as kids want. Then, with her family, Nashika said they all want one, which neither she nor The Salvation Army can do, so instead, no one gets one.

angel2Bikes and some video games are the few big-ticket gifts her girls have asked for. When that happens, she just tries to tell them those are things they’re not likely to get when the gifts are being donated. Nine times out of 10, the girls are fine with that and happy with whatever they receive.

Nashika said she doesn’t look to Angel Tree to get her kids all the things they want, anyway. “I just look at it as [donors] are getting what they can based on their budget. They look at my profile and see that I have girls; most of the time, it’s women who are doing this, so they’re going to get some things they feel like a girl should had.

“Overall, it’s Christmas; it’s people working from the kindness of their hearts.”

And speaking of the kindness of people’s hearts, she said the people who work Angel Tree are wonderful.

“I love that they’re always smiling. It’s not about business all the time with these people; it’s an automatic relationship. They have consideration of what people go through in our everyday lives, and they’re there, smiling and helping. They’re always in a good mood, regardless, and I know it’s a hard job.”

Angel Tree started for Nashika and other participants in October, when they registered their children. In December, they’ll pick up their kids’ gifts; Nashika will get hers during Louisville’s Dec. 19-21 distribution, which, like the registration, is at the Louisville Salvation Army’s new Angel Tree/Emergency Disaster Services warehouse.

“It’s really, really organized, so it isn’t anything that’s that hard,” she said of Angel Tree.

Nashika loves both the program and The Salvation Army. She wishes for more volunteers to help them.

“They need volunteers – both helping and with funds,” she said. “I know last year they were really stressed out because it wasn’t as healthy as it had been. I saw people with big bags [of gifts] and people with itty bitty bags, and I saw the effect on some parents’ faces. I heard the workers say there was a decrease in donations and people who wanted to be involved. ”

She hopes people understand the good the program does and encourages them to contribute.

“The feelings you get from something like this are so great,” she said. “On top of that, it’s a tax write-off, so it’s a win-win.”

Thanks and Rejuvenation


thanksgiving_facebookThanksgiving a day to rejuvenate for Salvation Army officers before busy Christmastime

Thanksgiving for many Salvation Army officers isn’t much different from regular folks’ holiday. If their Salvation Army doesn’t host a soup kitchen meal and/or deliver food to shut-ins, they will have the whole day to spend with their family.

It is their last day to relax before the hectic Christmas season starts Friday. While Angel Tree signups have already happened and some bell ringing has begun, the majority of The Salvation Army’s Christmas season starts with the Red Kettle Kickoff during the Dallas Cowboys game Thanksgiving evening.

That kickoff makes the Cowboys game part of a great number of Salvation Army families’ Thanksgiving. Officers from several Kentucky corps said they watch the game – or at least the Red Kettle Kickoff at halftime.

“After dinner, it’s usually football: the Cowboys game and another one. We watch the Cowboys game for the halftime, for sure,” said Lt. Ashley Reckline of Middlesboro, who celebrates the day with her husband, Lt. Chris, and their son.

Hanging out with the family on Thanksgiving is vitally important, the officers said, especially in Salvation Army posts that are far from relatives, which prevents the relatives from visiting or them traveling. In these cases, it’s generally just the officers and their young children who are together.

They all named activities besides watching football that they do on Thanksgiving. A big one is putting up Christmas decorations; several officers said they put their decorations and Christmas trees up on Thanksgiving, if not earlier.

“The year before last, my granddaughter was with us, and we put up the Christmas tree,” said Major Amy Edmonds, who admitted that she and her husband, James, skipped that last year (though she still decorated with her nativity scene, which she displays year-round). “This year, I am determined to put one up! We’ll do that on Thanksgiving.”

Reckline, whose family starts decorating for Christmas the first weekend after Halloween, said it’s important to inject that Christmas spirit into Thanksgiving because if not, the busyness of the upcoming season cause people to lose their spirit. On Thanksgiving, her six-year-old son gets in the mood by watching “Elf” while his parents do the dishes.

Luke Bryan performs during the 125th Red Kettle Kickoff, held at the halftime of the Dallas Cowboys' Thanksgiving Day game in 2015. Many Salvation Army officers watch at least the kickoff, if not the whole game, as part of their holiday festivities.

Luke Bryan performs during the 125th Red Kettle Kickoff, held at the halftime of the Dallas Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day game in 2015. Many Salvation Army officers watch at least the kickoff, if not the whole game, as part of their holiday festivities.

Other family activities include watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, which the Recklines do, and helping others, which Paducah Salvation Army Lt. John Horton and his family did when they worked in Chattanooga. He and his wife, Lt. Monica, took their three older kids to volunteer at another local Salvation Army corps’ meal.

In addition to that meal, the family Thanksgiving dinner is a big one for the Hortons, who share it with his father-in-law (a cancer survivor) and mother-in-law. “She is an extremely exceptional cook! She has some great food,” he said of his wife’s mom.

Maj. Edmonds said, “I’ll probably cook a full meal even if it’s just my husband and I. There are a few volunteers we like to invite if they have no family or anywhere to go.”

Their daughter’s family lives 13 hours away, so they won’t be attending. Instead, the Edmond spent a week there in October with them.

“I’m a little sad that they’re so far away. I’m on the phone and FaceTime all the time. We definitely will FaceTime on Thanksgiving,” said Edmonds, who noted that in addition to being thankful for her family, she’s also thankful for FaceTime for connecting them.

Reckline, whose closest relative lives five hours away, is also thankful for her family, including her Salvation Army family.

“Because our blood family lives hours away and we don’t get to see them on a daily basis, we really rely on our corps family and the love and support they show us,” she said. “We’re in a very small town, so it’s really nice to be able to call on people as family. We’re grateful for the love and support they show us.”

The other officers agreed. Owensboro Salvation Army Capt. Lorraina Crawford said her family just moved there in June, and the corps has been amazingly helpful through all of the family’s stresses. This includes her father’s death in October and not just their own move but also their son’s move to college.

“The people here have been so helpful to me and my family with what we’ve gone through. This is just another time that I am able to look over the past couple months and thank God that he moved us where there are people around us who can support us.”

Starting Friday, those people will support the Crawfords through the Christmas season with Angel Tree and the Red Kettle campaign. On Thanksgiving Day, though, the family is going to relax and not worry about those things.

“We’ll just get some rest, which is what we need,” she said. “This is our final time to get a breather before being underwater for a while. It’s the simplicity of being together and having rest, which God tells us we need to have.”

“We just want to relax and rejuvenate, so we can push through until Christmas,” Horton said – a sentiment shared by most other Salvation Army officers.

Red Kettle Rocks

Two Tennessee Salvation Armies kick off the season with concerts

The Knoxville Salvation Army began bell ringing for its Red Kettle campaign over the weekend, but it really starts the season with its fourth annual Rock the Red Kettle concert on Thursday. Memphis joins the fun on Saturday with its third annual Battle of the Bells, which is part of a two-day Red Kettle kickoff.

Singer-songwriter Erick Baker is featured in the Knoxville Salvation Army's Rock the Red Kettle concert this year.

Singer-songwriter Erick Baker is featured in the Knoxville Salvation Army’s Rock the Red Kettle concert this year.

The Knoxville concert features a nationally-touring singer-songwriter. The Memphis event is a competition for unsigned artists. Both serve as a way to introduce the Salvation Army mission to new audiences, particularly those in their 20s and 30s.

“One of our goals is to draw a younger crowd – to get them involved and make them aware of our brand and our mission,” said Rob Link, Knoxville’s Community Relations Director.

Aaron Keegan, the Special Events and Promotions Director in Memphis, agreed. “We’re really trying to get a younger demographic involved. Our average donor to The Salvation Army is in their 60s and that’s great, but we don’t have a lot in the wings waiting to come up.”

To help with that in Knoxville, the artist chosen for Thursday’s show is Erick Baker, who is in his mid-30s and attracts an older Millennial/younger Generation X crowd. Link said Baker is very interested in the Salvation Army mission and happy to get involved.

His booking was a happy accident, Link explained. The Salvation Army tried to book this year’s venue, the 750-person Bijou Theatre, last year but discovered that booking in July for a November show is much too late. Instead, The Salvation Army started looking then at booking it for this year and asked the theatre who in The Salvation Army’s price range sells well there. Baker was one of the artists mentioned, and he hit it off with the Salvation Army staff.

Drummer Andrew McNeill at Ardent Studios. He's part of a band that will perform at this year's Memphis Salvation Army Battle of the Bells.

Drummer Andrew McNeill at Ardent Studios. He’s part of a band that will perform at this year’s Memphis Salvation Army Battle of the Bells.

“It has turned out to be a great, great relationship that shows signs of continuing even after this concert,” Link said.

Baker, an Americana artist, is a Knoxville local, which will help with any future endeavors between the two parties. He used to tour at least 200 days a year, traveling all over the world with artists including John Legend, Gavin DeGraw and the Goo Goo Dolls; however, these days, he spends most of his time around home as the host of PBS’ “Tennessee Uncharted” and tours primarily on the weekend.

Tickets for Thursday’s 8 p.m. show are $30. About 30 VIP tickets, which include a pre-show reception with a short set by Baker, have already sold for $70 each. Link said the show’s expenses are covered by sponsors (including Regal Entertainment Group and radio stations 107.7 WIVK, WNML Sports Radio and News Talk 98.7, who are presenting the concert), so all the money from ticket sales will go straight to Knoxville’s Red Kettle campaign.

“One hundred percent of the ticket sales go directly into the Red Kettle to help jumpstart our campaign. That does a tremendous amount of good in the community where we all live.”

Link said that while this is the fourth year for the event, it’s the first year it’s really been a full concert. The past years had smaller venues, and the event was more like a reception, with desserts, a beverage station and a silent auction in addition to the music.

The Everdeens were one of the performers at Memphis' 2015 Battle of the Bells.

The Everdeens were one of the performers at Memphis’ 2015 Battle of the Bells.

“It was attended OK, but it never was the event we had envisioned four years ago. We’re really looking forward to having our first real Rock the Red Kettle concert this year,” he said.

The Memphis Salvation Army also had some growing pains in its first two years of the Battle of the Bells. The event started out as an online contest, with submissions having to contain some type of bell. Keegan said that wasn’t very well conceived or grasped, so last year, The Salvation Army switched to a live contest.

There were seven entrants representing seven different genres. Keegan described it as being like “American Idol,” with fans voting from their mobile devices for their favorite act and those results being mixed with the more heavily weighted scores of a judges panel of musical professionals.

The winner was high school a cappella group Say Something, whose prize was a slot during the New Year’s Eve guitar drop at one of the battle’s sponsors, the Memphis Hard Rock Cafe. This year’s winner will also earn that prize, which lets them play three to five songs for several thousand people on Main Street.

The winner will be named during the concert, which runs 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday. Sponsored in part by Kix 106 country radio, 98.1 The Max rock radio, Orion Federal Credit Union and the Memphis Flyer, it’s at the Kroc Center, which holds a 300-person audience. Tickets are $7 in advance on eventbrite.com or $10 at the door.

In previous years, Rock the Red Kettle was more of a reception than a concert. There was music, but also refreshments and a silent auction, and guests sat around tables.

In previous years, Rock the Red Kettle was more of a reception than a concert. There was music, but also refreshments and a silent auction, and guests sat around tables.

In addition to the grand prize, this year, another sponsor, Ardent Studios, added a gift for everyone participating. During 48 hours in October, the 13 artists selected for the contest all got some time at the famous studio (which has worked with ZZ Top, R.E.M., Bob Dylan, B.B. King and 3 Doors Down, among others) to record an original song, thanks to Ardent engineer Mike Wilson, who judged the competition last year.

“After last year, he said, ‘I love this event. I want to make it better.’ So skip forward a year, and our artists were recording their songs at Ardent Studios,” Keegan said.

“We recorded 13 songs, basically for their use. They’re up-and-coming artists who need a professional mix of their song, so they can go out and say, ‘This is what I sound like.’ Now, they have that song in their hand to give to a producer, and it’s free.”

He added that they have the goal of putting the songs on a compilation CD to sell and raise even more funds for the Red Kettle. That’s in addition to the awareness for The Salvation Army and the Red Kettle campaign raised at Saturday’s concert.

“Not only is this a great musical event, but it also serves as an opportunity for us to be able to tell our story,” Keegan said.