Shoppers Can Give Some Yuletide Cheer to Children in Need : Charity: About 500 families have signed up this year to put their children’s names on the Salvation Army’s ‘Caring Tree’ at Del Amo Mall.
At Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, an unusual Christmas tree stands at the gateway to Santa’s winter wonderland. Although most of the artificial Douglas firs in the display are covered with canned snow and tinsel, this tree, staffed by a volunteer from the Salvation Army, is covered with colorful tags bearing the names of needy children.
The mall donated the six-foot fir, called the “Caring Tree” or “Angel Tree,” which was erected last month in an effort to help collect toys and clothes for underprivileged children during the holiday season. The program is sponsored by the Salvation Army and His House, a social service organization affiliated with the Army.
This year, because of the depressed economy and increased publicity about the program, officials signed up five times as many families as last year. When registration ended Dec. 6, an estimated 500 families with a total of about 1,500 children had signed up. Last year only about 100 families registered, said Lt. Kenneth Hodder, commanding officer of the Torrance Salvation Army Corps.
“The economy and the layoffs in the aerospace industry (in the area) have had a major effect on the number of people coming to our door,” Hodder said. “The Caring Tree and the amount of money that people spend on toys for these children is a big help.”
Donors select a tag that bears the name, age and specific gift request of a needy Torrance child. The shopper buys the gift, returns it to the Salvation Army booth next to the tree and keeps the top half of the ornament, a haloed angel in prayer, as a keepsake.
The gifts are recorded by the volunteer, given a serial number and shipped to a warehouse in Torrance, where they will be stored until distributed to parents on Dec. 18.
“It’s a privilege to be able to do something like this,” Hodder said. “People understand that what they are doing is specifically for a child, and it makes them feel good.”
Parents began signing up for the program Oct. 22. To take part, they had to show birth certificates of each child registered along with pay stubs demonstrating the family did not earn more than the amount required to qualify for food distribution from the federal government. A parent must earn less that $700 a month to take part in the “Caring Tree” program.
This is the first time the 11-year-old national project has been based at Del Amo Fashion Center, the largest mall in the United States.
Developed in 1980, the program started in Virginia as a way to supplement donations collected through the familiar Salvation Army kettles during the holidays, said Col. Leon Ferraez, national communications director for the Salvation Army.
The project spread throughout the nation as it gained popularity. This year, there are 1,000 Caring Trees in shopping centers across the United States, and more than 1 million children will receive toys through the program, Ferraez said.
“We have people concerned about what the future will hold and parents who are both working and just can’t afford the extras of Christmas toys,” Ferraez said. “We are trying to do this for them.”
Gift requests from the children have included video games, dolls and bicycles. The Salvation Army requests only that the gift be more than $8 in value and remain unwrapped so it can be properly recorded. If someone takes a tag and does not return, the child’s name is put on another tag and put back on the tree. People may also donate money if they do not want to shop for a gift.
The booth near the tree is staffed by volunteers who work an average of three hours a day and often marvel at the generosity of the people who inquire about the display. One volunteer, Audrey Valentine, said one man brought in two large sacks of toys worth about $200.
Pat and Rosemary Olivier visited the tree with their toddlers, Mike and Katie, in hopes that the youngsters would some day appreciate the joy of giving.
“With all the commercialism and advertising, people tend to forget what Christmas is about,” Pat Olivier said. “We want to show them (our children) that they can give too, and not only receive.”