Recipients become donors in Angel Tree turnaround|[12/20/05]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 20, 2005

What’s most inspiring to the longtime coordinator of the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program is when former recipients of donated toys become donors themselves.

Barbara Larson said she’s one of about 30 volunteers who have organized this year’s effort, which distributed about 1,100 bundles of gifts for children and elderly people Monday from the former location of Big KMart on Pemberton Square Boulevard.

Larson is a paralegal at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mississippi Valley Division headquarters. She said she has coordinated the project for the past 10 years and spends about 40 to 50 hours each year on it.

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From a staging area for children’s bicycles Monday, Larson said the number of gift recipients is &#8220usually about 900 to 1,000,” with most of them repeat recipients. Each year, some longtime recipients remove themselves from the list and new ones are added, Larson said.

Some of those who drop off have themselves become donors from one year to the next, Larson said.

&#8220It’s a success when we know somebody has gotten a job,” Larson said.

The Angel Tree program is designed to match people who contribute gifts or money to recipients in need.

Larson said about 75 to 80 percent of those who receive gifts from the program have had their wish lists &#8220adopted” by someone visiting a public Angel Tree location. Gifts for those who remain are purchased with Salvation Army funds, she added.

Some children’s gifts – often bicycles – are donated by people who have not adopted specific families, Larson said. Sometimes mothers arriving to pick up bundles for their children are surprised at the number or size of gifts they receive, said five-year volunteer Gwen Edris of the Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary.

Members of the auxiliary spent a full day Friday organizing for Monday’s distribution in the former retail space, of 87,000 square feet, first-year volunteer Phyllis Renfro said.

The program depends on the generosity of the local real-estate community for space and generally has a different place as its distribution location each year.

&#8220We hate empty buildings around Vicksburg,” Edris said. &#8220But sometimes they’re to our advantage, like around Christmas.”

Of this year’s recipients, about 250 were elderly and about 122 were families who evacuated coastal areas hit by Hurricane Katrina.

Capt. Michelle Robbins of the Salvation Army said the organization will move its operations back to its headquarters, 530 Mission 66, by the end of the week. One of the biggest needs for evacuees who have decided to make their homes in Vicksburg is furniture, she said.