Central Indiana Angel Tree Program Makes the Holidays Special for Youngsters
Five years ago the Salvation Army Indiana Division began hosting the Central Indiana Angel Tree, through which donors adopt children (“angels”) from newborn to age 12, providing them with personalized gifts to help make the holidays special. Prior to the Angel Tree program, the Salvation Army hosted a Toy Shop where toys were placed on tables, and parents would select gifts.
The organization’s leaders switched to the Angel Tree program to allow for a more a personalized experience. Christmas is a time of happiness and celebration for many, but that’s not always the case for those who come from unstable homes.
“We want to give these children the same opportunity that every other child is getting,” says Captain Brianne Bowers, Divisional Candidate and Youth Secretary for the Salvation Army Indiana Division.
Often when parents come in to register their child for the program, they are upset because they don’t know how they are going to provide gifts for their kids at Christmas. This year is especially challenging due to COVID-19.
“We have no idea what these families have been going through, so we want to be that support and that encouragement to empower them to make Christmas memorable,” Bowers says.
This year the Central Indiana Angel Tree will serve 5,000 angels. This number is lower than in past years, but the staff felt the number was plausible given the economic difficulties facing many people in 2020. Each angel will receive a bag of goodies valued at $50. The Salvation Army leaders ask that each bag contain something the child wants, something they need, something to wear, and something to read.
“It could be a couple of books or an entire outfit, depending on how the donor shops,” Bowers says.
The number-one ask for this year has been a Fire tablet, which can be helpful with the recent increase in virtual learning due to the pandemic. With many libraries being closed, the ability to check out a library book using an e-reader is a helpful alternative.
In the past, Angel Trees have been displayed at both the Castleton Mall and the Fashion Mall in Indianapolis, but due to COVID-19 that will not be the case this year. Instead, Salvation Army leaders are relying heavily on online adoptions and encouraging donors to use Amazon. For those who prefer to drop gifts in person, they may do so at the Eagle Creek or Fountain Square locations.
Through the years, community response to the program has typically been strong.
“Awareness is important,” Bowers says. “The more we’ve been able to communicate and bring an understanding of what Angel Tree is about to our volunteers and donors, the more we’ve seen an increase in participation.”
In past years, bicycles and beds have been donated. Unfortunately, this year coronavirus restrictions make such donations difficult.
“It doesn’t mean we don’t still want to meet those needs,” Bowers says of larger items like beds. “We just have to be a little more creative by using social services or working through our other partner agencies.”
Each year there are invariably a handful of children whose tags aren’t adopted, but according to Bowers, as soon as she and her colleagues spread the word about the need for a few more donors, community members immediately rise to the occasion.
“To see the generosity of the community and how they have stepped up to make sure that kids have a good Christmas has amazed me every single year,” Bowers says. “Sometimes parents shop with their child for an angel who is the same age. It’s teaching their kids how to share the love and how to give back in their community. It’s teaching the younger generations how to be generous with what you’ve been given.”
The Salvation Army has a pool of longtime volunteers, but can always use extra sets of hands to help with setup, distribution and cleanup. For those who don’t have the time but do have the means, a financial contribution is also appreciated. In addition, Bowers encourages folks to check out the Red Kettle program, as the two programs go hand in hand.
“Angel Tree is what provides children with Christmas gifts, but really what allows us to do so is the Red Kettle,” says Bowers, noting that when the Salvation Army meets its Christmas goal, the organization is not only able to provide kids with gifts, but also resources needed for its two community center locations that provide year-round youth and family programs.
The Angel Tree program has been successful because it not only provides tangible items, but also creates feelings of joy and promise.
“We aren’t trying to give anybody a band-aid to cover the problem,” Bowers says. “We are wanting to provide hope in a time where parents may feel hopeless, because we know there are circumstances outside of the parents’ control.”
The Salvation Army Indiana Division is located at 6060 Castleway West Drive in Indianapolis. To learn more about Central Indiana Angel Tree, call 317-937-7000 and go to centralusa.salvationarmy.org/indiana/angeltree.