Christmas comes for local angels

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 17, 2004

National Honor Society member and Salvation Army volunteer Slade Mitchell, 13, rolls a bicycle to the waiting family Thursday morning at the Vicksburg Self Storage building, which housed the Angel Tree distribution center. (Brian LodenThe Vicksburg Post)

[12/17/04] It looked like something out of Lance Armstrong’s dream world several walls at the Vicksburg Self Storage lined with 130 bicycles.

It wasn’t a dream. Instead, it will be a happy reality for children on Christmas.

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletter

Receive daily headlines and obituaries

The bikes were among many other presents the Salvation Army was distributing from the storage facility Thursday as a part of its annual Angel Tree project. Starting at 9 a.m., volunteers distributed plastic bags full of presents at a rate of one person served per minute.

The Angel Tree project provided gifts for about 450 families, most from Warren County but also a few from Sharkey and Issaquena counties. Nine hundred children and 224 seniors were among those who will receive gifts.

Salvation Army Capt. Michelle Robbins said the project is the result of a communitywide effort. Groups or individuals “adopt” a name or names from one of several trees and return with gifts matching their angels’ wish lists.

“It takes a whole community,” Michelle Robbins said. “In all honesty, we’ve not been in a community like this,” she added.

Robbins and her husband, Capt. John Robbins, served at five duty stations before being assigned to Vicksburg six months ago.

The Salvation Army also benefited from some corporate friends. Wal-Mart donated a significant amount of food while Kansas City Southern Railway’s Holiday Express dropped off 100 gift cards for clothing.

Ameristar Hotel and Casino picked up a $10,000 tab to buy gifts for 200 unadopted Angel Tree recipients.

“At Ameristar, we strive to be the hometown team,” General Manager Ray Neilsen said. “We want to be involved in the community, and we try to give our time and money.”

The application process for Angel Tree recipients begins in October, Michelle Robbins said. Each family’s income and expenses are reviewed. About 97 percent of the applicants get approved, she said.

“We do it on an individual, case-by-case basis. It goes by need,” Michelle Robbins said.

About 40 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees assisted in organizing the presents as a part of its annual Day of Caring.

“Instead of having a big party where we exchange gifts, we come out and help the community,” said Susan Hampton, regulatory branch chief for the Mississippi Valley Division. In addition to the Angel Tree project, Hampton said Corps employees also volunteered for five other area charities Monday.

Several Corps employees and members of the Salvation Army’s Women’s Auxiliary also helped Thursday in distributing the gifts.

Apart from standards like bikes and clothing, gift-givers gave trendy toys like Bratz dolls for girls and Spider-Man action figures for boys, Michelle Robbins said. Barbie dolls and basketballs were also popular, she said.

Emma Thomas, the guard-ian of 8-year-old Earline Hagen, said her daughter has loved the bike and Easy Bake oven she has received from Angel Tree donors during the past few years.

“She loves all that. It means a lot to me,” Thomas said.