Christmas stories motivate Salvation Army volunteers

December 26, 2003|EMILY BURTON

Among the stacks of plastic sack boulders on the yellow gym floor, volunteers distribute the trash bags of donated toys and exchange stories like favorite books. Around the rows they pass the dog-eared tales of teary-eyed hugs like so many smudged pages, worn from the retelling.

It is that moment of true gratitude, say volunteers, that keeps them coming back to the Salvation Army to help give Christmas cheer to needy families this season.

A favorite story of many is that of a family who went from giving Christmas last December to doing without this year. After receiving help from the Salvation Army, the family has emerged from the nameless stacks to thank the community for giving them Christmas.

Their gratitude is mirrored in the stories from hundreds of others.

"We've already helped 500 families," said Captain Zach Bell, head of the local Salvation Army." When it's all said and done, we'll have helped close to 800 families."


Three weeks ago, gift donator and local Realtor Tammy Carr came forward to recount the story of a forgotten angel. A memory from Christmas past, it reads like the tale of Tiny Tim.

"I bought gifts and went out there to drop them off, and accidentally saw the child. He saw me, and knew exactly what I was doing out there. He was thrilled," said Carr, still smiling over the story.

Stories of Christmas present began to emerge as local students, church groups and helpful elves distributed almost 200 bags of goodies a day last week. Families who had registered for help, and plenty of those who hadn't, were given gifts for the children, a frozen turkey with all the fixings, cake with icing and stockings, already stuffed.

"One woman came to pick up her gifts for her children, and each one had gotten a bicycle," said Betty Jo Hurt, a 15-year veteran of the Salvation Army. "She was crying, and I was crying. She couldn't say thank you enough."

Now as Christmas morning disappeared with bits of curled ribbon and torn Santa wrappings, Bell tells of a new story, one reminiscent of "It's a Wonderful Life."

Once upon a time, a family from Florida followed a good job to Danville. During Christmas last year, they bought gifts for the Salvation Army's Angel tree, they slipped coins into the red kettles and donated what they could to help others have a bright season.

But prospects of another bright Christmas suffered when the husband's company unexpectedly shut down. With a wife in nursing school, the family was prepared for a meager holiday in order to survive. Haven given Christmas to others, they were about to do without themselves.

"This year, with all this coming about, she didn't know what to do," said Bell. "She came here, we got her through the application process, and everything was taken care of."

With a turkey in the freezer, vegetables in the pantry and presents under the tree, the family told Bell they wanted their story of thanks to be passed on to the community, even if they chose to be anonymous.

"All she wants to say is how grateful she is to the community, and she definitely wants her story told," said Bell, who deflected the credit. "Thank you's are words to the Salvation Army, but they need to be directed to the community."

It is the local community that helped save the holidays for hundreds this year, including the family from Florida said Bell. Having worked with the Salvation Army around the country, including in Atlanta and Washington D.C., he said his experiences here were amazing in comparison.

"The public response is not like this (elsewhere). This community has really taken hold and become angels of hope," said Bell.

The grateful mother said she couldn't agree more, judging from her own happy ending to a rocky tale.

"They gave us Christmas," she said.

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