‘It’s extraordinary that people care this much’

Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program makes sure needy children have plenty under the tree

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MIDDLEBURG – The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program saved Christmas for Brenda Mosley.

“There wouldn’t be a Christmas,” the Orange Park mother said as volunteers stuffed her trunk with toys during its annual day of giving Thursday at its headquarters on County Road 220. “It’s a dream come true. It’s extraordinary that people care this much.”

Angel Tree is one of three holiday programs for the Salvation Army. The organization uses a Christian message to meet the needs of a community also will support Clay County with its Red Kettle and Stocking Suffer programs.

The Salvation Army identified 141 needy families this year and it set up Christmas trees throughout the county with tags posting each child’s gift request. This year’s response was so overwhelming, most got more than they asked.

“This was very impressive,” said Maj. Lynn Irish. “The community … wow. They came through. We have 141 families with 400 angels. Thanks to the support of the community, every one of them will have something under the tree.”

Appointments were staggered between 9 a.m. and noon to avoid a rush. There were so many toys to be delivered, there was a small backup. According to Orange Park’s Detra Bennett, it was worth the wait.

“This is a pretty big deal for us,” she said as she waited for volunteers to provide toys for her twin son and daughter. “Without this, Christmas would only be a few little things. This makes a big difference.”

Bennett was stunned when volunteers gave her two new bicycles and two bags of toys.

“Bikes are always a popular request,” Irish said. “So are electronics and wireless headphones. And Barbie requests never go away. We get a lot of them, too.”

The program started with residents being offered free Bibles and meeting inside the chapel for a short devotion. From there, they each were given a turkey as they made their way back to the parking lot. Cars were in line to the pickup area behind the main facility. Orders were prefilled based on earlier requests, so drivers only needed to pull up to the door and wait for their car to be loaded.

“Since we rely on donations from the community, we can’t always fill every request,” Irish said. “We do our best. Usually, everyone gets a lot more than they ask for.”

Eleasa Mabry was there to pick up toys for her sister’s six children.

“She’s pretty bad off,” Mabry said. “She has a disabled son at home so she can’t work. Her children will have Christmas. You wait here not knowing what you’re going to get. It’s like a secret Santa.”

One of Mabry’s nephews got a new bike. The rest of the toys overflowed the bed of her husband’s pickup truck.

“It’s going to be a Merry Christmas,” one of the volunteers as the next car in line pulled up.

Indeed.

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