GARY | Thousands of Christmas presents, including a fleet of colorful bicycles, filled the gymnasium floor at The Salvation Army Gary-Merrillville headquarters Friday during the second day of Angel Tree distribution.
This year 1,700 children were registered for Angel Tree gifts by 750 families, said Capt. Brenda McCoy, Salvation Army Corps officer for Gary-Merrillville, which serves Gary, Merrillville, Crown Point, Hobart, Lake Station and New Chicago.
“We didn’t have more families making application, but we had more children this year,” McCoy said. “Usually we have 900 to 1,000 families. It may have been that parents who didn’t ask for help in other years had more than one child to buy for this year, and said, ‘We just can’t do it.'”
Donations of gifts poured into The Salvation Army site during the first week of December, and volunteers and staff members made certain the presents matched each child on the list.
Without the help of businesses, industry, churches, organizations and individuals, the Angel Tree program would not have been possible, McCoy said.
“U.S. Steel is the biggest donor. They took 750 of the 1,700 children to buy for," she said.
Other donors included Methodist Hospitals Northlake and Southlake campuses, Direct Buy, Centier Bank and a host of individuals, she said.
It literally takes an army to organize and run the Angel Tree program each year, McCoy said.
Work begins in September with notices sent to schools and churches. During the first week of October, Salvation Army staff and volunteers take applications from families.
“We ask families to fill out an application listing three gifts for each child that are on their wish list. We also ask for each child’s shoe, coat and clothing sizes,” McCoy said.
Joe Skora, of Merrillville, was one of several members of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association who lent a hand. Founded in Gary in 1921, AHEPA works year-round for many charities throughout Northwest Indiana.
“We contribute money and our resources and donate our time,” Skora said. “We also donate food vouchers and toys for children."
Merrillville Councilman Richard Hardaway spent much of the day helping match Angel Tree families with their children’s gifts.
“The look on the parents’ faces, you know what you’re doing is not in vain,” said Hardaway, who also is co-chairman of The Salvation Army event council. “This really impacts Lake County and Northwest Indiana.”
Lean economic times continue to impact area families and organizations, he said.
“There is great need. We’re not going to make our budget this year, but this kind of effort is necessary,” he said about The Salvation Army’s work throughout the year.