“Everyone will be getting Christmas,” said Susan Gilbert, director of social services for the nonprofit. “It’s a close call every year. If it wasn’t, I might be worried.”
Tuesday morning at the Tupelo Furniture Market, Gilbert, along with five Salvation Army employees and a legion of volunteers, had their hands full with the distribution of gifts for more than 1,100 children. As the heads of needy families arrived to pick up their gifts at the Tupelo Furniture Market, volunteers brought their packages to them and assisted them to their vehicle.
Gilbert said the gifts are checked three times for accuracy, and volunteers ensure the right gifts make it to the right vehicle.
For soon-to-be members of Mississippi State University’s chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, it was a first-time experience.
“Community service is part of our pledgeship,” said David Echols. “But I don’t have any qualms about spending some of my Christmas break helping people.”
Other volunteers have made it a family tradition, like Susan Rish and her sons Preston and Peyton. Susan said the family had been involved with the Angel Tree in previous years, but had never taken part in the distribution. Sixteen-year-old Preston said it felt good to help during the holiday season.
“I have an Algebra II exam later today, but this is more important than a few more hours of sleep,” he said.
The Angel Tree is a program that takes applications from needy families in order to provide items on their children’s Christmas lists. Once applications are accepted, the wish lists are made anonymous and hung on a Christmas tree inside The Mall at Barnes Crossing. There, charitable shoppers may register to “adopt” an angel, purchase the gifts asked for on the list, and return the gifts to the Army, where staffers and volunteers distribute them to the families.
Maj. Sue Dorman, senior officer at Tupelo’s Salvation Army, said last-minute donations from volunteers and companies came through in the nick of time this year. They made possible the purchase of more pricey Christmas wishes, such as bicycles.
“We’ve had a huge outpouring of volunteers who make giving back part of their Christmas,” she said. “Tomorrow we’ll start working on next year’s Angel Tree.”