Bringing Christmas to children and the elderly in need is the focus of The Salvation Army’s annual Angel Tree gift drive.
This season’s names are now being selected and the tree is already in place for families and individuals to select an angel.
The Angel Tree project grew out of The Salvation Army’s efforts to help those in need at Christmastime, according to Ruthie Forgey, corps administrator for The Salvation Army of Cleveland.
These are efforts Norm Fontana remembers well.
He was 12 years old and living with his aunt in Kansas when The Salvation Army delivered Christmas.
It’s a gesture Fontana will never forget.
“It wasn’t a lot of gifts. It was just the idea that we got something,” Fontana said.
Fontana was living with his aunt and two other children at the time. But his aunt was an alcoholic.
“Probably the thing I remember the most more than the toys was a shirt,” Fontana said. “A checked, plaid brown-and-yellow shirt. I wore that shirt until I joined the Navy at the age of 17. We didn’t have that many clothes. That shirt meant a lot.”
While Salvation Army no longer delivers the gifts to families’ front doors, except in special circumstances, the nonprofit is still in the business of creating Christmas joy.
“The Salvation Army was really there for us,” said Fontana, who now lives in Cleveland. “My story is really about grace and God’s goodness.”
He is retired from the U.S. Navy and is a Lee University alumnus.
Fontana has become a part of the annual Christmas activities by being a bell ringer with the Army. He is also a member of The Salvation Army of Cleveland advisory board.
The organization also ensured the family had food for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“I was a blessed recipient,” Fontana said.
“Who has become a blessed giver,” Forgey said in response.
Last year, the annual gift drive provided Christmas for 709 senior citizens and children in Bradley County.
“The majority of that is children,” Forgey said.
Angels, as they are called by the organizations, are selected by The Salvation Army through interviews and parent interviews for the children. These interviews ensure that the family is truly in need, and are used to formulate the wish lists on the Angel Tree tags.
“Bradley County is very, very generous and people really bless those angels. They treat those angels more often than not as if that is one of their own family members,” Forgey said.
The organization also uses the Charity Check database to cross reference possible participants with other local gift-giving programs.
“Every year that I have been here we have seen an increase in angels,” Forgey said.
She has been a part of Salvation Army’s Christmas endeavours for the past five years.
Instead of delivering each gift, parents pick up the gifts at the organization’s distribution center.
“It’s like the North Pole,” Forgey said.
She said it is impossible to work in the distribution center in a bad mood because the atmosphere puts everyone in a good mood.
If there are extenuating circumstances, the Cleveland Salvation Army will deliver the gifts. Forgey said two years ago when a family didn’t show up at the distribution center, two representatives from The Salvation Army set out to find them and deliver the gifts.
“They were looking for this family in Birchwood, Tenn. … They were on every dirt road. Finally they went on this one little dirt road and found the home. The mother was just in tears. She said, ‘My car broke down. We don’t have a telephone. There was no way I was going to be able to come and get these,’” Forgey said.
Those wanting to participate in this year’s gift drive can choose a child or elderly person from the tree at the entrance to Kmart inside the Bradley Square Mall. The angels and wishlists will remain on the tree throughout this month. The deadline to return gifts to the Angel Tree at Kmart is Dec. 1. For more information, contact The Salvation Army of Cleveland at 423-308-3467.
By JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
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Read more: Cleveland Daily Banner – The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree impacted Norm Fontana
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