With Christmas just days away, hundreds of Central Indiana men and women are thankful for the outpouring of love and support they received from complete strangers in our community. Back in October, these parents, grandparents and guardians traveled to one of three Salvation Army facilities in Indianapolis to apply for Christmas assistance. Each had a story to tell: layoffs at work, high medical expenses, unexpected debt, loss of a home, taking in grandchildren, even homelessness.

Salvation Army officers, staff & volunteers

In November, Angel Tree tags were printed to represent each child in need. The tags listed the child’s name, age, clothing and shoe sizes, Christmas wants, and real needs. From warm boots to school uniforms, these needs are what make the Angel Tree program truly unique. The “Angels” in the program receive more that just toys and games for Christmas; they also receive much-needed clothing, bedding, and hygiene items.

Shopping with CBS4

Over 2,200 children were enrolled in the Angel Tree program in 2016, which meant that The Salvation Army needed tremendous community support to ensure that every child was remembered on Christmas morning. Companies like Lowe’s and Navient stepped up to adopt Angels en masse to provide an opportunity for employees to shop for a child and give back during the holiday season. Other organizations, like iTown Church and The Salvation Army Women’s Auxiliary, adopted Angels as part of their Christmas charitable work. Indiana Pacers forward Jeff Teague chose 30 Angels to adopt, while the 22nd Annual Circle City Toy Run rounded up hundreds of toys to help fill the bags of any Forgotten Angels.

Angel Tree gifts arrive at the Indiana State Fair Grounds

For one week in November, shoppers at Castleton Square and Greenwood Park malls also had a chance to choose an Angel from special trees in the malls and later drop off the filled Angel Tree bags for The Salvation Army to collect. These generous shoppers added one more child to their shopping lists, opening their hearts to a family in need and a parent praying for a Christmas miracle.

Debby Knox collects donations before a Colts game

CBS4 partnered with The Salvation Army to make sure that word got out about registration for families and Angel adoptions. The staff at CBS4 even adopted a group of Angels, shopping for kids who ranged in age from a tiny newborn in need of diapers and a car seat to growing pre-teens looking for winter gear and shoes. On December 11 they set up collection bins around Lucas Oil Stadium to collect new toys and children’s clothing donated by Colts fans before the game against the Texans.

The Salvation Army had the help of Two Men and a Truck throughout the entire process, from collecting bags at the malls and local businesses to transporting all 2,200 bags to the Indiana State Fair Grounds to begin the week-long process of preparing for distribution day. These “movers who care” showed just how big their hearts are by driving all across the Indy metro area to collect bags and make sure the distribution would go off without a hitch.

Last Friday all the hard work put into Angel Tree paid off when parents came to the Indiana State Fair Grounds to receive each of their children’s Angel Tree bags. Donors were so generous that many items simply wouldn’t fit in bags – gifts like bicycles and fishing rods, and needs like beds and strollers. As volunteers and Salvation Army officers greeted and assisted each parent, tears of joy flowed freely. Apprehension turned to hope and then overwhelming happiness as parents finally let themselves believe that Christmas would actually come to their homes this year.

A family receives gifts for their children

A special prayer table was set up with Salvation Army officers (who are also pastors), available for anyone in need of comforting or a partner in prayer. Major Beth Petrie, who spent much of her day talking with parents, recalled, “In one case, a woman shared how she had recently attempted suicide, but was now on the road to recovery. The receipt of gifts for her children, along with the hope and encouragement she felt from the prayer team, had given her a sense of being able to move forward positively in her life.”

Thank you to the hundreds of you who gave your time and resources to make Christmas bright for these children. You are each a blessing to their families and our community. As the joy of the season passes, we know that the seeds of hope you helped to plant in hearts will grow into something very special in the days ahead. God bless you, and Merry Christmas!