By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
The 12-foot artificial Christmas tree in Wal-Mart isn’t decorated with fancy lights or ornaments. It is instead filled with paper cutouts, bearing children’s names and their Christmas wishes. Nearby, sits a box filled with various items: a new novel — “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince;” a plastic-wrapped board game; a battery-operated truck.
The tree and the items are part of the Angel Tree Salvation Army Christmas project, designed to provide needy children with Christmas gifts. Another angel tree is set up at the North Plains Mall.
The program runs in conjunction with the Empty Stocking Fund, said Capt. Tammy Ray of the Clovis Salvation Army.
“The Empty Stocking Fund is really an arm of our angel-tree program. It identifies families with an interesting story we can share with the community. It helps people know these are not nameless, faceless children in our community. They could be your neighbors,” Ray said.
The Clovis News Journal will print the stories of several Empty Stocking Fund families starting Friday.
Due to donation misappropriations to families not in need in years past, donation recipients are now chosen and screened through Clovis Municipal Schools and Team Builders, a branch of the Children, Youth and Families Department, Ray said.
Although those chosen for the program are typically low-income, the Salvation Army seeks out families battling extenuating circumstances, Ray said.
“This year, we tried to really identify those truly in need and reduce the amount of people who have used our system to their advantage. We are not so much looking at income, but at the situation of the family. Some may have mid-level incomes, but maybe someone in the family is sick, or they just lost a parent, and it has really caused some significant financial issues,” Ray said.
In order to fill every Empty Stocking Fund and angel-tree request, donations in kind from the angel-tree program are supplemented by monetary donations from individuals and companies, Ray said.
She estimates as many as 175 families and 500 children will be assisted through angel-tree and Empty Stocking Fund programs this year. In 2004, Ray estimated the Salvation Army assisted about 400 households with food, clothes and toys through the Empty Stocking Fund. She said about 700 children received toys and clothing through the Salvation Army’s angel-tree program at Wal-Mart and North Plains Mall.
The local Salvation Army raised $37,464 with its Christmas projects in 2004, according to officials. That was $5,300 less than the previous year.
Ray expects even more difficulty meeting the needs of local families this year, as natural gas and heating costs have risen and expanded the pool of families in need.
Some seem ready to meet the challenges, even if they are exacerbated due to rising costs of living.
Wal-Mart employee Susan Prieto can look upon the giant angel tree from her assigned department. She said every time she goes to the front of the store, the donation box is filled to the brim.
“I wish people would pay more attention (to families in need) throughout the whole year,” Prieto said.
The angel tree is interwoven now with the rest of Frank Bean’s Christmas traditions.
“Every year, my wife and my daughter pick a child to give to from the tree,” said Bean, the Clovis Wal-Mart manager.
“It’s a good thing,” he added.
For information, or to donate to a Salvation Army Christmas project, call Tammy Ray at 762-3801 or visit the Salvation Army on 317 E. Second Street.
Filling the stocking
• Once again, the Clovis News Journal is accepting Empty Stocking Fund donations at the newspaper office, 521 Pile.
And donations may be mailed to the CNJ at P.O. Box 1689, Clovis 88102. Envelopes should be clearly marked to indicate they contain a donation for the Empty Stocking Fund.
All contributions will be forwarded to the Salvation Army.