Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 17, 2002

packages of presents readied for Angel Tree gifts

A military operation was being staged Monday in former retail space off South Frontage Road; its goal, the brightening of Christmas for local families.

About 1,053 packages of presents were being readied for Wednesday pickup from the former Heilig-Meyers Furniture store in this year’s Salvation Army Angel Tree program, Capt. John Showers said. That number was up by more than 100 from last year’s count, said another project organizer, Linda Renfro, president of the Women’s Auxiliary.

“We have more kids, but fewer families,” Renfro said of the numbers of people receiving gifts from the program during this year’s annual operation.

The program provides about four or five presents, each set valued at about $50, to each child or adult approved by the Salvation Army to participate.

About 20 of the 150 volunteers who have worked on this year’s effort were sorting and bagging the gifts Monday, placing them in numbered areas on the floor.

“They will come by Wednesday morning,” Showers said of adult family members of children who will receive presents from the program.

“Each family has been assigned to a time slot. They’ve already gotten their notices in the mail. Every 30 minutes we’ll have about 30 to 45 families come in” to pick up packages, with volunteers present to help locate and load all pieces, Showers added. Opportunities to help were still available, with more information available from the Salvation Army at 636-2706.

All presents to be donated were due Friday, and all from organizations had been received, Showers said. On Monday, though, receipts of pledged present donations were short by about 206 recipients, he said.

“That’s a staggering amount for us,” said Renfro, who estimated her organization put about 400 man-hours into the effort, beginning with registration for recipient families Nov. 7. “We cannot absorb 20 percent (in unreceived pledges),” Renfro said. “We’re going to have to change our way of doing business next year.”

The shortfall was being made up with purchases from cash donations to Salvation Army kettles, usually about $20,000 to $30,000, Showers said. Any excess kettle donations go to the Salvation Army’s general fund, he added.

Many of the volunteers working Monday were from the Mississippi River Commission offices, public affairs officer Karen Buehler said.

“This is part of our Day of Caring,” Buehler said, adding that the day was designated for employees to work in other local charitable enterprises as well.

Other organizations being served by Corps volunteers Monday were Haven House Family Shelter and Jacob’s Ladder, where they were helping do maintenance. The day also provided a chance for volunteers to distribute food and other items they had collected to the local food pantry, Vicksburg Warren Humane Society, River City Rescue Mission and the Good News Jail and Prison Ministries program.

The Heilig-Meyers space has been donated to the operation by Campbell Realty, and is being used by it for the second year, Showers said.