The Angel Tree
In 1998, John Maimone was introduced to The Salvation Army of Greater New York through his mother Gerri and the family’s elevator business. But it was not until 2002, as he did elevator maintenance on various Army properties, that he learned about its Christmas toy ministry.
“At the Army’s Briarwood Family Residence on 134th Street in Jamaica, N.Y., I saw the families and children receiving only one gift at Christmas time. When I asked the corps officers about it, they said that sometimes [the residence] could barely afford that one gift,” says John. Wanting to do something to help, he told his wife Jennifer what he had seen at the family center.
That Christmas, John and Jennifer bought toys, wrapped them, and donated them to the Greater New York Division’s Toy Shop program. The next Christmas, they bought more toys and asked family members to help wrap the gifts.
“For years, we treated this as a regular toy drive, until we asked the officers if there were specific toys that they needed or that the kids really wanted,” says Jennifer. “That was when we learned about the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program.”
In addition to the toys they bought and wrapped for the Toy Shop, John and Jennifer began taking cards with an Angel Tree child’s special wish for Christmas. Family and friends of the Maimones passed around a spreadsheet with information on each request. They all loved learning the children’s names, and buying for them a toy to go along with a winter coat or an outfit.
“We began to buy Angel Tree presents as we bought our family’s Christmas presents,” says Jennifer.
Today, John runs the family elevator repair business, Metropolitan Elevator Service & Greyhound Elevator Corp., based in New York City. The business continues to handle the Greater New York Division’s elevator maintenance, and the Maimones have increased their devotion to the Angel Tree program. Their family members, as well as the company’s various employees, clients, agencies, and property managers donate toys for The Salvation Army.
“The number of toys became so large that we had to start using the trucks we had for elevator repairs just to take all the presents to the Army,” says Jennifer. “Our mechanics are now helping with toy deliveries to the corps.”
The Maimone’s own connection with The Salvation Army has grown through the Angel Tree program too.
“Army officers have become mentors to me,” John says. “They are always there with a smile, providing friendship and spiritual leadership for our family.”
“I knew about The Salvation Army before we worked with them professionally,” says Jennifer. “But as I learned about their mission I saw how involved they are in the day–to–day lives of people, especially around Christmas.”
by Hugo Bravo
The history of the Angel Tree
Along with the familiar red kettles, the Angel Tree program is one of the Salvation Army’s highest profile Christmas efforts. Angel Tree was created by The Salvation Army in 1979 by Majors Charles and Shirley White when they worked with a Lynchburg, Va., shopping mall to provide clothing and toys for children at Christmas time.
The program got its name because the Whites identified the wishes of local children by writing their gift needs on Hallmark greeting cards that featured pictures of angels. They placed the cards on a Christmas tree at the mall to allow shoppers to select children to help. Thanks to the Whites, who were assigned by the Army to the Lynchburg area at the time, more than 700 children had a brighter Christmas that first year.
Three years later, when the Whites were transferred to Nashville, Tenn., Angel Tree was launched in the Music City. WSM radio, which airs the Grand Ole Opry, came on board that year as the first Angel Tree co–sponsor in the U.S. Today, The Angel Tree Program is now facilitated in hundreds of cities across the U.S.