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Helping Christmas wishes come true

Giving Tree has tags for the taking
by Lisa Brown

Krista Himmelman collects tags from the Giving Tree. She and her family buy gifts for those in need every holiday season.
 BRIDGEWATER - It's a simple thing that could make a child's Christmas wishes come true.

 The Giving Tree went up last week at the Bridgewater Mall. Salvation Army Capt. Karen Holland hung the first batch of tags on the tree November 18.

 The tree is part of the Salvation Army's annual Christmas assistance program. People willing to buy gifts for children and teens in need take tags from the tree, purchase the gifts indicated, then place them, unwrapped, in the large gift collection box next to the tree.

 For added convenience, gifts can also be dropped off this year at Curves on King Street and Wal-Mart in Cookville.

 If people prefer, they can drop the items at the Salvation Army church at 116 Pleasant Street, Monday to Friday, between 10 a.m. and noon or 1 and 3 p.m. starting on November 28.

 Each tag represents a child in the program, indicating whether the child is a boy or a girl, his or her age and two gift ideas. People taking the tags can buy one item or both, or a similar, suitable gift.

 "I think people really get joy out of purchasing something for a child and knowing that they're making somebody's Christmas that much more special," Capt. Holland says.

 "And I know from interviewing the families, they feel so bad about not being able to do stuff for their children."

 There are a few changes to this year's program. In recent years, there have been tags for toys and tags for clothing. The Salvation Army eliminated the clothing tags for 2011 and will fill those needs in other ways.

 "The clothing has always been something above and beyond the toys for Christmas. With our funding being down, we can't afford to do the toys and clothing - we had to make a choice," Capt. Holland says.

 "If there are families who are in real need of a snowsuit or something like that, we're doing that on an individual basis," she adds.

 "As a child myself when I was young or even watching my own daughter open up Christmas presents, clothing is something that you need and you expect to have. The toys put a smile on a kid's face because that's something that is special."

 Instead, teens have been added to the Giving Tree this year, again trying to stretch the program's dollars to help as many families as possible.

 The Salvation Army is asking people to take the tags and return the gifts by December 16. Holiday deliveries will be going out to families between December 19 and 21.

 Capt. Holland is making one request this year - that people not take tags if they aren't going to purchase gifts.

 The Salvation Army ran into difficulty last year when they did not receive gifts for about 40 per cent of the tags taken from the tree.

 "A lot of tags went off the tree last year that we didn't get back," she says. "That was huge for us last year."

 It left officials and volunteers scrambling to fulfil Christmas wishes at the last minute. While they do supplement the gifts children receive, the rush and the financial cost put an extra strain on the program.

 The Giving Tree is just one of the ways the Salvation Army aids those in need at Christmas. Individuals, groups and businesses can also sponsor families or make donations to the Christmas Daddies Telethon.

 Whatever money the telethon receives from Lunenburg County comes back to the Salvation Army to aid the Christmas assistance program the following year. Since donations were down about 20 per cent last year, there's less money to work with in 2011.

 And the need continues to remain steady or grow. In 2010, the program helped 300 families with 547 children.

 However, as of late last week, only about half the expected number of applications had been submitted, possibly because of the warmer weather. Although the deadline for applications has now passed, families who qualify will still get help as the holidays approach.

 "I'm thinking it's not because there's not the same need as there has always been," Capt. Holland says. "With layoffs and companies closing and everything, the numbers are still up in everything else we do, it's just this application process has been slow this year."

 Anyone with a low income and children 16 or younger is eligible to apply for help. Need is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

posted on 11/23/11
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