Angel Trees Save Christmas for Children Across Virginia

Christmas saved for some low-income Southwest Virginians

By Amie Knowles

December 17, 2020

Salvation Army finds ways to make the Angel Tree program work in 2020.

MARTINSVILLE – Santa Claus is bringing Christmas to towns across Virginia. Despite the pandemic, he’s got toys for every girl and boy, regardless of their family’s income.

By December 21, approximately 200 low-income families will receive one of the greatest gifts of the season – the joy of having holiday presents to give their children. That’s all thanks to an ongoing effort by the Salvation Army in Martinsville, which continued their seasonal programming despite the pandemic.

Rather than cancel their 2020 Angel Tree program, the nonprofit came up with creative solutions by adapting their time-honored traditions.

That’s good news for all of the boys and girls on the Nice List in Martinsville City, Henry County, Franklin County and Patrick County, where the Angel Tree program will act as Santa this year.

Retail Generosity

The uphill battle to save Christmas in this corner of Southwest Virginia started with the trees themselves.

Each tree displays angel-shaped ornaments containing children’s names, ages, and Christmas wishes. Traditionally, shoppers select an ‘angel’ and pick items off of that child’s Christmas list. When they’ve completed their shopping, they donate the items they purchased to the Salvation Army, who distributes the gifts to the children’s caregivers in time for Christmas.

This year, several of the businesses that usually participate were unable to host a tree. Without replacements, organizers feared fewer people would see the ornaments.

“We had trouble getting our angels out because not as many businesses were open to the public,” said Lt. Ashley Mumford, Corps Officer. “We had a harder time getting our angels out and into people’s hands.”

Thankfully, they were able to find a solution. Two local branches of Walmart allowed the Salvation Army to put up an Angel Tree in their store.

Both the Walmart in Martinsville and the Walmart in Stuart currently have Angel Tree displays. According to Mumford, this partnership helped them find presents for well over half of the children participating in the program.

“That helped us,” Mumford said. “That gave us about 150 angels that we were continuously putting on a tree.”

An Act of Kindness

Even though roughly the same number of families applied for the Angel Tree program as in pre-pandemic years, Mumford said she saw more new faces than normal.

Although Mumford said the organization received several large toy donations, by the second week of December they still didn’t have enough presents to go around.

With less than two weeks left before parents, grandparents and other guardians will begin traveling to the Salvation Army to pick up the toys, many ornaments – and therefore wishes – still hung on the Angel Trees throughout the district.

A donation earlier this week helped fill the gap and save Christmas for these children.

“We got a donation of gift cards that we were able to go and – we just did that event on Tuesday – we went to Walmart and [were] able to shop for about 65 kids that were not taken,” Mumford said.

Picking Up Holiday Toys

The majority of the program remained similar to prior Angel Tree events in years past. However, the toy pickup will change to accommodate social distancing guidelines.

On Dec. 21, cars will line Memorial Blvd. in Martinsville. There the organization will host a drive-thru pickup event for those who applied for the 2020 program.

“We’re going to do it as safely as possible with COVID and everything. They’re going to stay in their cars,’ Mumford said. “They’re going to drive up, we’re going to get their number, their name and then we’ll give them their gifts and give them a little piece of hope for this Christmas.”

Christmas for Everyone

Mumford recalled her own Christmas morning memories and wished for similar circumstances for other area children.

“No kid ever wants to be that kid that, ‘Oh, my mom just couldn’t afford.’ Or ‘Santa Claus just didn’t visit my house.’ And so in my own heart, I don’t want any kid to feel that Santa Claus doesn’t love them or that they’re not loved because they didn’t get anything for Christmas,” Mumford said.

Christmas oftentimes places financial hardships on families – especially this year with the COVID-19 pandemic in full swing.

Across the country, parents faced unemployment or underemployment, making Christmas shopping especially difficult in 2020.

“We want to do our best to help that,” Mumford said.

RELATED: These Huge COVID Relief Programs Are All About to Expire.

Making a Donation

Dec. 11, is the last official day of the Angel Tree toy drive. However, just because the trees aren’t up at Walmart doesn’t mean the Salvation Army won’t accept donations. They absolutely will.

“They can come and donate anything new. We do not give out used toys or used clothes. So they can donate anything that is new,” Mumford said. “Even beyond tomorrow, if next week they’re like, ‘Oh, wait, I have this toy in the back of my car. You know, my son doesn’t want this.’ They can, they can donate that any, any day.”

The Salvation Army located at 603 Memorial Blvd S in Martinsville. Those interested in making a donation may drop off their toys there. Readers who don’t live near Martinsville interested in donating can find their nearest Angel Tree here.

Amie Knowles reports for Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected]

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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