CUMBERLAND — More than 200 children still need to be “adopted” under the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program, which matches needy children with area residents who want to provide a child with Christmas gifts.
“Our community is hurting. It’s not the little children’s fault,” said Jim Dillingham, officer and senior pastor with the Salvation Army Cumberland corps.
Each Christmas season the Salvation Army accepts applications from families who have fallen on difficult financial times.
If they qualify, the children are placed in the Angel Tree program where they are then chosen or, in the program’s language, “adopted” by individuals or businesses.
The Angel Tree program accepts children from Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland and Mineral and Hampshire counties in West Virginia.
“There are people who are suffering due to medical problems, divorce, economic situations and other problems that are many times beyond their control,” said Dillingham.
When a person or organization adopts an angel, they are given a tag that tells them the child’s sex, first name, sizes of their clothes, shoes and coat, and they are given three gift ideas.
“In the end, it makes you feel really good to see the parents’ faces. They become overwhelmed,” said Heather Miltenberger, a bookkeeper for the organization.
The Salvation Army has, in past years, placed the children’s names on Christmas trees and other places at the Country Club Mall and Walmart. However, having people be able to pull a name and take it home got to be very hard to track.
“It got a bit chaotic,” Dillingham said.
“You didn’t know who had what,” Miltenberger said.
The Salvation Army has changed the program in an effort to simplify the process by asking people or businesses wanting to participate to call 301-777-7600.
“Sometimes people don’t know how to ask for help; they have never been through this before,” said Kitty Willison, the organization’s social service director.
Willison said that normally they are able to get all the children adopted.
Officials said that this year has been difficult due to the tough economic times.
Dillingham said that times have been difficult for people with children trying to make ends meet, and for the individuals and organizations that typically participate by adopting the children.
“We have had an increase of about 18 percent just this year” in requests for help, said Dillingham.
Dillingham said that in 2012 they had 1,050 children and this year they have 1,250.
A food box is also provided to the needy families by the Salvation Army so the children can have a Christmas dinner.
Dillingham said that it can become a touching scene when you see how overtaken the parent becomes with the gifts.
“Some have never asked for help before,” said Dillingham.
Dillingham said one woman came in and there was little hope for her family. She broke down and started crying when she picked up the gifts.
“That is what makes us work so hard,” said Dillingham.
Although three gift suggestions are given to those who adopt an angel, there are no requirements placed on anyone.
“It is whatever your heart guides you to do,” said Dillingham.
Officials would like to have the gifts in by Dec. 10. They are distributed to the families Dec. 17.
The Salvation Army is located at 701 E. First St.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.