Nearly 800 Coffee County children, including almost 400 in Tullahoma, had a merry Christmas thanks to the efforts of the Coffee County Salvation Army and its Angel Tree program.
According to Salvation Army Treasurer Pam Bussell, there were 762 total children signed up to receive anonymous gifts from the Angel Tree, with 374 of them living in the Tullahoma city limits.
The Angel Tree is a nonprofit program of the Salvation Army which seeks to gift children in need with winter clothing for the holiday season. Christmas trees filled with informational “angel” cards are set up in participating businesses, where community members can pick an angel and buy the clothes listed on each card.
The cards contain a listing of the children’s clothing sizes, as well as a couple of interests for each child. Parents are allowed to list specific needs for their children on the cards if they need one item more than others. Clothing items like scarves, socks or underwear and shirts and pants are frequent requests, though Angel Tree buyers are always encouraged to also purchase jackets or coats and other warm clothing items for their angels.
Those who buy items for the angels are also allowed to purchase a toy or activity item for their angel, though Bussell has said in the past that the main focus should be on clothing.
This year’s participating Angel Tree locations included the Salvation Army offices inside the First Christian Church Annex, Traders Bank, St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church, Chick-Fil-A, JCPenney and Walmart.
Bussell said her team makes sure each angel has at least one toy to enjoy with their angel tree gifts as well as clothes in order to give each child the best possible Christmas experience. Any other toys are generally taken care of through the Tullahoma Fire Department’s Toys for Tots campaign, she said.
“Most of them get their toys from Toys for Tots,” she said, though some may not have been signed up for Toys for Tots, hence the addition of one toy for each angel.
This year’s crop of angels was slightly larger than in years past, according to Bussell, with the Salvation Army needing to purchase gifts for around 100 of the angels.
Though there are usually always leftover angels to buy for, Bussell said this year saw nearly double the number of children still needing items after the deadline.
“We usually only have 40 to 50 [angels] to buy for, so we had a whole lot more we had to buy for this year,” she said. “There were a little over 100 we had to purchase for.”
Red Kettle Drive
Another program put on each holiday season by the Salvation Army is the Red Kettle Drive, which sees volunteer bell-ringers posted outside participating businesses with the iconic Salvation Army red kettles.
Bussell said there were around 450 volunteer bell-ringers stationed outside of local stores this year.
“That’s about normal,” she said of the number of volunteers.
Generally speaking, Bussell said the majority of volunteers sign up through various churches and civic organizations and take alternating shifts for ringing, though there are some tried-and-true helpers who volunteer their time individually.
One volunteer in particular, she said, volunteers multiple days a week for the cause.
“Bob Holder,” she said rings “two to three days a week by himself … at Kroger.”
Holder has been a wonderful volunteer, Bussell said, and even encourages his family members to ring with him during his shifts.
“When his grandchildren are in town visiting, they go to ring the bells with him,” she said. “They look forward to it every year.”
While the final tally for this year’s kettle drive hasn’t been calculated, Bussell said the drive typically brings in anywhere between $16,000 and $18,000 for the community.
The hope is that this year’s drive brings in the same amount, though Bussell said there was one less Saturday to ring this year.
“I’m not really sure how that will affect us this year,” she said, but she still remains hopeful.
All money collected in the Coffee County kettles remains in Coffee County, Bussell said. Once the funds are collected, they are used for myriad assistance programs run out of the Salvation Army, including rental assistance, utility assistance, back-to-school supplies, and more.
How to help
The Salvation Army doesn’t only take donations during the holiday season, Bussell said. Anyone looking to donate to help their fellow Coffee Countians in need are encouraged to send donations to P.O. Box 606 in Tullahoma.
As with the kettle drive donations, any donations received go toward financial assistance programs run by the Salvation Army.
Erin McCullough may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.