By: Cyrondys Jackson
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (December 16, 2021)- At an empty warehouse, nestled in western Birmingham, Christmas wishes came to life for approximately 3,191 children in the Birmingham Metro Area. Windows covered with thick, tan butcher paper, tucked away a magical workshop- where inside, hundreds of volunteer hours were being logged by members of the local community, businesses, civic, service, and collegiate organizations. “Santa’s Helpers,” showed up on November 26 to begin volunteering at the workshop with one goal in mind: Make this Christmas as memorable as possible for children and families in our area.
Santa’s Workshop runs like a well-oiled machine. An assembly line, staffed to receive gift and toy donations, collected at local Angel Tree drop-off locations. Gifts are checked, sorted, placed into boxes, and neatly assembled along 17 lengthy rows. As the donations come in, empty boxes are filled with gifts, purchased for Angels that were adopted through the WBRC Fox 6 Gifts for Kids Birmingham Salvation Army Angel Tree.
Darlene Ray, Angel Tree Coordinator, oversees the program and Santa’s Workshop. During Christmas, she serves as the head “Elf,” Santa’s trusted helper, and tasked with checking lists repeatedly, assigning volunteer duties, accounting for all donations, and answering Angel Tree questions. In addition to managing the workshop, Darlene oversees Angel Tree registration, which kicks off in October.
The program is a labor of love for so many people and would be impossible without the support of program sponsors, members of the community, corporate and individual donors, and Area Command employees. In 2019, The WBRC Fox 6 Gifts for Kids Birmingham Salvation Army Angel Tree served more than 5,000 children. During the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020, more than 3,200 children were served by the program.
The Salvation Army of Greater Birmingham’s Area Commander, Major Robert Lyle, said, “We recognize there is still a tremendous need throughout the community this Christmas. While parents are doing their best to keep bills and rent paid, we don’t want them to have to worry about Christmas.” Major Lyle said the Angel Tree program serves as a “helping hand” to the most vulnerable children and families in our area.
For two days, just before Christmas, families come to the warehouse to pick up their gifts. Many are overwhelmed by kind words and gestures from employees and volunteers during distribution days. As they wait for their gifts to be wheeled to the front in a bright red shopping cart, Area Commanders, Majors Robert and Karen Lyle, share messages of “hope, kindness, and love” over the loudspeaker.
One mom shared, “I came here with my head hanging low because this year has been really tough for me. I lost my job during COVID because my children’s daycare shut down. I got another job working from home, but at the same time, I think I just got depressed because I couldn’t see any way out or how I was going to catch up. I came in a cab today because my car just went to the shop, and every single person here has treated me like I am the best parent in the world, and I am so grateful.”
Volunteer groups come from everywhere to serve at the two-day distribution event, with employees appreciative of their employers granting time off to serve. Cory Smith, a Regions employee volunteer, has served with The Birmingham Salvation Army for eight years, and said his team feels like they “can make a great impact here with Salvation Army, with their time. It’s been great getting to see the smiling faces…everyone getting their gifts put in their cars.”
By Friday, the last boxes were emptied and stored away for next year’s distribution, and volunteers were on-hand to help tidy up Santa’s Workshop before the doors were closed and the butcher paper removed from the windows. People snapped pictures of inflatables, shared celebratory hugs and high fives, as families opened trunks, and the last gifts were loaded into vehicles.
Another year Angel Tree season come and gone- and Hope, Marches On for The Salvation Army of Greater Birmingham.
In 1998, WBRC teamed up with the Department of Human Resources to help collect toys for foster children in Jefferson County. In 2007, WBRC partnered with The Salvation Army and the WBRC FOX 6 Gifts For Kids Salvation Army Angel Tree program was created. The program includes Angel Trees in local shopping malls and on-site at area corporations, churches, and organizations. The local communities have fully supported the Angel Tree program, making it possible to help thousands of children each year.