• 57°

850 angels’ adopted in annual Christmas sharing

Volunteer Gloria W. Harris carries a bundle of presents through more than 850 packages being prepared Wednesday for recipients of the Salvation Army Angel Tree gifts. Volunteers worked for hours to sort and bundle the gifts collected across Warren County for needy families. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

At least 69 area children will find a shiny new bicycle near the tree on Christmas morning thanks to residents who donated gifts and time to the Salvation Army in Vicksburg.

In total, about 850 area children who otherwise might not have had any presents for Christmas were provided presents through the Salvation Army’s growing Angel Tree Adoption program. The program culminated Wednesday morning in the cold, vacant halls at the old Halls Ferry School Elementary where volunteers bundled up to hand over holiday purchases to families who had applied for assistance.

“I do this every year,” said Gloria W. Harris, an employee of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division. “It just does my heart good; this is my Christmas.”

While Santa Claus’ elves get another two days to prepare for the biggest holiday of the year, the Salvation Army and its volunteers had to finish all of their work this week.

On Monday, the volunteers helped the Salvation Army sort the hundreds of presents that ranged from CD players to Barbie dolls.

“It was was back-breaking work,” said Karen Buehler, another employee from the Mississippi Valley Division. But, “it just puts a little warm glow in my heart.”

The items were sorted by a list of family names and then by each boy and girl to ensure that each child received an equal share. Next, gifts, most of them purchased by residents who “adopted an angel” for the holiday were carefully bundled and lined up in order filling the old kitchen, cafeteria and auditorium of the empty school.

“I have been so blessed and I feel like when I do this, I am giving back,” said Harris, who used a day of her vacation to help Wednesday.

Shirley Thomas was one of the 357 people who waited in line to collect gifts for her family. Along with two children of her own, Thomas is also having to provide for six nieces and nephews this year.

“It’s a great help,” Thomas said of the program. “I couldn’t have afforded this myself.”

Although her husband, James Thomas, works full-time, the family three months ago was granted temporary custody of her nieces and nephews, ranging in ages from 8 months to 7 years. They needed help for the holidays.

Capt. John Showers, director of the Salvation Army in Vicksburg, said that not all of the names of children placed on Angel Trees in many locations around the city were adopted this year, but every child will get gifts. Along with the donated toys, about $2,700 from red kettles went to provide gift certificates for food to the elderly and $2,500 went toward gifts for angels not adopted.

“All the money that comes in goes right back out,” Showers said.

Families seeking help from the Salvation Army have to meet financial requirements to qualify for the Angel Tree program, Showers said. The parents filled out a wish list for their children. The lists are provided to volunteers who adopt and shop anonymously.