Christmas morning was a hit for dozens of local families and individuals thanks to the Angel Tree program at the Hamburg Salvation Army. The program, which matches children and senior citizens with willing donors, allows everyone to have fun items to open over the holiday.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Cathy Correll, service extension center manager, and Angie Pennypacker, caseworker and office assistant in Hamburg, coordinate volunteers who gather donations, unload and sort items, before placing them in boxes for each recipient.
“The Angel Trees have been going for a long time,” Correll confirmed of the program, which dates back to 1979 in Virginia and now serves families nationwide. In the Hamburg area this Christmas season, 151 children and 126 seniors received Angel Tree gifts.
Correll has spearheaded the program since she started her position in Hamburg in 2011. That same year, she extended the program to serve senior citizens as well as children.
Recipients must be either children (ages zero to 12) or seniors (age 65 and up). Annual applications are due by the end of October, and to qualify income cannot exceed 250 percent of the poverty level.
“Most government programs stop at 150 percent percent, but that’s just not realistic,” Correll says, noting that many families live paycheck to paycheck and, once they pay for rent and other expenses, they have little left over for gifts.
“The people love it, especially the seniors,” she said as she surveyed the operation this December in the Hamburg Field House, pointing out 28 bikes stacked against one wall, children’s boxes stretched in rows across the main floor and tables loaded with gifts for senior citizens.
“A lot of these people, from the kids to the seniors, this is all they get for Christmas.”
Correll paged through notebooks, each page representing a recipient and listing items on their needs- and wish-lists. Lots of the senior pages included essentials like toiletries and local gift cards. Bikes and toys are always a hit with the children, Correll said.
The gifts themselves represent a real community effort. Some gifts arrive from individuals and families, but many are the result of group projects.
“It’s schools, churches and businesses,” Correll explained. “We have quite a following. Tulpehocken High School students filled 150 tags, and the Hamburg High School Leo Club took another 30.”
Other Hamburg students help sort items. Toys for Tots, crews from local businesses and about 40 individual volunteers supplement the program, filling in any gaps to make sure all children in a family receive a gift and making sure everything is ready in time for the holidays. All items must be new and some items, such as toy guns, are not accepted.
As Christmas approaches, representatives pick up the donations, using a 26-foot U-Haul truck for larger items. To prepare at the field house, volunteers set up tables, tape boxes and label them with tags to match up gifts with the right individual.
“Everything is done completely anonymously,” Correll noted.
Families pick up donations at the field house and wrap them for Christmas morning. The senior gifts are delivered to individuals by volunteer elves, often wearing cheerful Santa hats. At some sites, volunteers and recipients share a meal together.
To thank their volunteers, Correll and Pennypacker arrange a potluck lunch and party on the last day of the Angel Tree pick up.
As she surveyed the field house filling up with gifts, Correll smiled.
“There’s a lot of goodness out there,” she said.