Since 1984, The Salvation Army has been making Christmas special for North Texas families in need. Through their Angel Tree adoption program more than 50,000 children, ages 0-14, receive gifts gathered from the community each year.
Pat Patey, marketing and communication director for The Salvation Army DFW, says the process starts by interviewing families referred by school counselors and social service organizations towards the end of September.
“Each of the families that apply sits down with a Salvation Army worker to review their income, expenses and situation,” says Patey. “As we do that, our workers collect information on their age, gender and clothing size as well as a wish item and a need item. Then, we make paper Angel tags and put them on the trees with a code number that represents the family.”
Patey says it’s not just low-income families that receive these gifts but sometimes it’s ones that have faced unforeseen circumstances. One specific example he remembers is of a single mom who got hurt on the job as a paramedic.
“She had been out in the winter and was pushing someone on a stretcher when she slipped on the ice,” says Patey. “She was injured, not able to work and ended up basically losing everything. Once she found out she could get assistance from the Salvation Army, her son requested personal care items that were considered more of a necessity then something you’d give as a Christmas gift. The day that she came to pick up the gifts, I think she was quite surprised at the things that were provided for her.”
Patey says the Angel Tree also works as a great learning tool for kids.
“It’s important to teach children at an early age the importance of giving and that other people don’t necessarily have everything that they may have,” he says. “So I think that this is a good way for parents to teach their children by being a part of selecting an Angel off the tree.”
However you won’t just find these chances to give back in shopping malls. Patey says a big part of the donation process is made possible thanks to organizations and corporations who adopt Angels for their workplace. In Fort Worth, BNSF Railway is leading the way by adopting more angels than any other corporation. GM Financial, Lockheed Martin, Peterbilt Motors and ThyssenKrupp are among the other 90 Fort Worth companies that adopted 10,144 Angels just last year.
Whether it’s an occupational or family effort, Patey says people adopt Angels for a variety of reasons.
“Some parents may collect angels because they have a child the same age,” he says. “One year a parent was shopping for a child because she had lost a child that would have been that same age. I think people tend to shop for the Angel they’ve selected as if they were shopping for their own child.”
Overall, Patey says the outreach program’s goal is to allow children from families whose parents can’t afford presents to be a part of the Christmas tradition and experience it as other children do.
“We identify people within the community that really need help,” he says. “Then we give others the opportunity to put their compassion into action and help real life neighbors.”
And don’t worry about the Angels that never get adopted. The Salvation Army has a plan for them too.
“Of course our goal is to get all of the Angels adopted,” he says. “But if it happens, we normally have enough gifts donated by toy drives plus we purchase gifts like board games and use them to make gift bags for any children that are not adopted from the Angel Tree.”
Participating Fort Worth locations include Hulen and Ridgmar Malls. For a complete list of all 11 Dallas-Fort Worth Angel Tree locations, visit SalvationArmyDFW.org.