Answering the alarm—together
Updated December 20, 2020.
The lines were so long for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree distribution in Lexington, Ky., on Friday, December 18, that city police jumped in to help control the traffic.
That seemed appropriate, since the city’s Fraternal Order of Firefighters (FOF) had been a partner from the beginning of the Angel Tree effort this year in Lexington.
“It went well,” Joanna Weaver, the development program specialist for the Lexington Corps, said of the drive-thru event. “It went long. We definitely appreciated all of the help from the firefighters and the long hours they gave to us. Lots of good people in our community came out to help.”
Friday was the first day of distribution at an old Walmart building in Lexington. COVID-19 caused this year’s event to be a drive-thru. Distribution continues Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week.
Weaver said 4,813 children and 1,845 families are signed up for this year’s Angel Tree program, a significant increase from last year’s 3,500 kids.
“We did have quite a few families say that this was the first year that they needed help,” Weaver said.
The Salvation Army Angel Tree program provides Christmas gifts for hundreds of thousands of children each year. Generous donors adopt an “angel” child and then buy a gift for them. Families then pick up the gifts, but that plan was nixed in Lexington because of the pandemic.
Weaver said another major change this year is families applied online instead of in person.
This Christmas, The Salvation Army in Lexington, Ky., is getting a huge assist with its Angel Tree program by teaming up with the city’s Fraternal Order of Firefighters (FOF).
Joanna Weaver, the development program specialist for the Lexington Corps, said she has worked with the firefighters to get toys to needy children. Last Christmas, The Salvation Army and FOF even shared a storage building.
“This year, when they realized they were not going to be able to do their toy distribution, we decided to kind of work together,” Weaver said of the FOF. “They’re still collecting toys and donations and things like that and then all of those toys will go to us for our Angel Tree program.
“They’re also helping us with distribution. This partnership helps us to get more toys. It’s hard to get volunteers right now because of the pandemic, so it’s been really helpful for us.”
Each year, The Salvation Army Angel Tree program provides Christmas gifts for hundreds of thousands of children. Generous donors adopt an “angel” child and then buy a gift for them. Families then pick up the gifts, but that plan was nixed in Lexington because of the pandemic.
A hurting community
The distribution will begin Dec. 18 and continue into the following week. Weaver said a major change this year is that families will apply online instead of in person. They will then pick up their gifts during drive–thru events to keep everyone safe from COVID–19.
Weaver said The Salvation Army served 3,600 children last year, but with the coronavirus decimating the Kentucky economy, the need is going to be greater in 2020.
“We’ve already seen an increase in people signing up and needing help, including people who have never needed help before or haven’t needed help in a while,” Weaver said. “So far this year, we’re at more than 4,000 children.
“We’re fortunate that Lexington is a very giving community. We still have a lot of people who are taking the tags and donating money and gifts for Angel Tree.”
The partnership was announced at a press conference in October.
Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton donated a toy fire engine to kick off the effort. She also thanked the generous businesses and community groups, such as The Salvation Army, for making the season a little brighter.
“If there ever was a year when we needed some Christmas magic, this is it,” the mayor said.
Lexington Fire Chief Kristin Chilton said she was proud of her department’s 90–year tradition of providing toys and being a light to the community at Christmas.
“While this year’s toy program is going to look a little different amid the coronavirus concerns, it will still bring the same smile to the faces of children on Christmas Day,” she said.
Filling the gaps
Todd Houston, president of the FOF, said the toys would be stored at a former Walmart, known to those involved as the “North Pole.” People at Don Franklin Auto donated the space, along with a van to help with transport.
“This year our kids have suffered more than ever and those who depend on school don’t have meals,” said Sarah Fisher of Don Franklin Auto. “This year has truly been unprecedented and for us to be able to donate this space for this great cause is the least we could do.”
Fisher challenged her fellow Kentuckians to help the Angel Tree program so Lexington’s children can “wake up to a Christmas; wake up to something magical that day because of the year they’ve had.”
Weaver, who is organizing her 6th Angel Tree project with The Salvation Army, said she will miss seeing some of her regular volunteers this year because of COVID–19. “But it’s been amazing to see all of the people who have stepped up to help us out. That part of it has been very refreshing for me.”
“We’re excited for this partnership and we hope it will be more convenient to families, as well as keep everyone safe,” Weaver said.
by Robert Mitchell
photography by Ryan Love
For more information or to donate to The Salvation Army Angel Tree program, go to www.saangeltree.org.