Salvation Army strives to fulfill Christmas needs

By Tammy Keith Published December 13, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Lt. Russell Clay holds some of the toys donated at The Salvation Army Joy Center in Conway.

— It’s the most hectic time of the year for The Salvation Army Conway Corps, getting Project Angel Tree presents ready for Christmas and operating the corps’ biggest fundraiser, the Red Kettle Campaign.

Lt. Jamie Clay is running the Angel Tree process like an experienced elf.

The toys come in to a donated space in the North Plaza Shopping Center, which she and her husband, Lt. Russell Clay, call The Joy Center.

It definitely made her happy on Monday morning.

“When I came in this door, I was like, ‘Holy cow!’” she said, because there were so many donated gifts to sort.

The bags of Angel Tree gifts are placed by a Christmas tree; then volunteers and staff go through and make sure the gifts match the kids’ lists.

If there isn’t quite enough, “maybe they only got two or three things,” she said, toys neatly arranged on tables will be used to supplement the gifts.

Some people donate new toys just for that reason, or for emergencies, Jamie said.

This year, the need is greater, Russell said.

Last year, The Salvation Army received 177 requests. This year, it’s 298, “and that’s not counting emergencies that come in at the last minute,” he said.

Despite the generosity, it doesn’t quite match the need.

“Last year, everything was adopted 100 percent. This year, we still have angels on the trees,” he said.

“A lot of people are mentioning losing a job,” Jamie said.

Still, Jamie said, many people in the community can be counted on to support The Salvation Army.

She also showed racks of clothes with the tags still on them.

“One woman buys things on clearance every year,” Jamie said, and brings in bags full of clothes.

In the back room, huge boxes were lined up with tags attached to them identifying the child by first name and number.

The gifts are again confirmed before being placed in the boxes.

Each family will get a food box, too, Jamie said.

“They’ll go right here,” she said, pointing to a then-blank wall.

Jamie said they couldn’t do so many food boxes without Larry Drayton of Conway, who donates boxes year-round for the food to be placed in.

He also encourages his co-workers at a Maumelle plant — only those who live in Conway — to adopt an angel, she said.

“He makes it his personal responsibility,” Jamie said. “Last year, he took 50; this year he took 200. And then, he and his entire family volunteer. By the end of the Christmas season, he will have put in at least 40 hours himself. Last year, his co-workers who live in Conway spent 300 hours” volunteering for Project Angel Tree, she said.

On Saturday, The Salva-tion Army held a Fill the Truck event with Walmart, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary nationwide.

Russell said Walmart asked to partner with The Salvation Army, and customers going into the store were given a flier asking them to buy a gift for a child.

“We got 136 toys, six coats, two pairs of shoes and 27 — and I counted — items of clothing, which included a top and pants together,” he said.

Next week, all the gifts will go out the back door to needy and appreciative parents, Jamie said.

Russell was coughing as he talked.

“I’m not going down till the 24th,” he said, laughing. “I’ll be hibernating like a bear come the 25th.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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