Salvation Army gears up for Angel Tree Christmas Program

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Salvation Army believes the tough economy will mean more families struggling to buy gifts for their children this Christmas. So starting Monday, the organization is asking families in need to register for the Angel Tree Program.

Salvation Army leaders are bracing for another busy holiday season.  On Tuesday, staff members and volunteers removed the Christmas trees and unpacked boxes of supplies and decorations that have been in storage.

It's only October, but the Salvation Army is ready to spread some holiday joy. Registration for its Angel Tree Program starts on Monday.

"In order to get all the applications in and the toys back to us so they can be given to those individuals, you have to plan way ahead," said Major Sharon Ray, Salvation Army Coordinator of Women's Ministries.

Last year, more than 1,200 angels were adopted by people and businesses throughout south Mississippi.  With the down economy, the Salvation Army expects to see an increase in the number of applicants who need gifts for their children.  The program also reaches out to senior citizens.

"I believe there will be just as many that will be coming out," said Ray. "We've had a lot of phone calls already asking: When is it going to happen?  People are left without a job all of a sudden or burned out, or something that has put them in a position to need something. So it can really be heart warming. It can also be heart wrenching."

Despite the growing need, the organization is confident the community will answer the call for holiday help.

"When times get the toughest, I think, that's when you notice that people come out and really start helping their neighbors. Because it's in us," said Ray. "That's what makes it so special, because somebody has shopped for that individual child."

That spirit of giving starts when the angels appear on the trees.

"We've gotten word out and I'm sure we're going to be ready as people come to our doors next week," said Ray.

The Angel Tree program officially kicks off November 21. Names of needy children and seniors will appear on the angels. You can pick an angel and purchase a gift on the list of wishes. The gifts will be distributed in mid-December.

The program is for children ages 12 and under. Families must meet income eligibility requirements.  Registration runs from October 10 through November 11.  For more information about the program, call the Salvation Army at (228) 374-8301.

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