By Selwyn Harris
The Salvation Army describes it as a Christmas tradition that goes back more than 100 years.
The annual “Red Kettle Drive” is underway where bell ringers have set up shop outside the doors of at least two retail stores in Pahrump.
The Salvation Army’s Capt. Mark King said this week that though it’s still early, it appears people are opening up their pocketbooks to lend a helping hand to the organization.
“We are only at about day four and we seem to be doing about as well as last year. We are trying to raise $24,000. Last year wasn’t too bad, we raised just under $24,000, so we are going to try and hit that $24,000 mark. We have bell ringers at Walmart on both doors and Smith’s grocery store,” he said.
King noted that area businesses can assist the Salvation Army by simply holding food drives for the holiday season.
King’s wife Monica said that another holiday event is also underway for Pahrump children.
“We just put our Angel Trees out a couple of days before Thanksgiving, so it is kind of early in the season to really know for sure how it is going. We are getting some toys in and we have been getting sponsors who want to host the Angel Tree and toy drives for us. It is all looking very promising, but I can’t say for certain and we never really know until that week when we start bagging and tagging the toys if we got enough,” she said.
King noted that one of the greatest feelings is to watch the smile and the eyes of a young child when they are presented with a Christmas gift courtesy of the Angel Tree where anyone can choose an angel tag and buy what that child wants for Christmas.
Though the deadline has since passed to sign up for the program, she also said at present, there are several locations around town where the trees are on display, including doctor and dentist offices, fitness centers, and a few hair salons.
“Counting Walmart, we have 12 locations and we rely on businesses, churches, school groups, and even families to host Angel Trees. We provide them with a tag and in some cases with a tree. If they don’t have a tree, we have a few extras we can provide. Each tag that we provide has the names, age, clothing size, and three toy wishes for ages from birth up to 12 years.
“The parents came and they filled out an application. The income guidelines are the same as the USDA food program for the schools. If they qualify for free or reduced lunches, then they qualify for our program and that is basically how we choose families. If they apply and qualify, then they are in. There is no selection process,” she said.
King also said the tags are designed to let the sponsor identify with the child and their wishes.
“The sponsors peruse the tags on the trees and they pick a child. Some people identify with the tag because it may be a grandparent who has a grandchild who is the same age. Some people do it because the Salvation Army helped them when they were kids. There are all kinds of different reasons,” she said.
King also noted that the gifts kids want for Christmas vary from current to old school.
“I remember last year, we had a tag where the kid asked for all “Star Wars” stuff. One person told me that they were a big Star Wars family and when they saw the tag, they knew they just had to shop for that kid,” she said.
Angel Tree sponsors may purchase the items and drop them off where they picked up the tag or they can simply drop it off at the Salvation Army headquarters at 721 Buol Ln.
In regards to receiving donations from the community, King said it has been very difficult over the past couple of years due to the state of economy.
“It’s not just at Christmas, but it is also throughout the rest of the year. Two years ago, we were able to provide rental assistance, utility assistance, but that funding has since dried up and we have no means to be able to provide that kind of assistance anymore. We do provide emergency food boxes for people year round and that is from the generous donations that do continue to come in from our faithful donors,” she said.
King noted that just last year at this time, the organization was forced to rely on another local organization for the sake of the kids.
“We ran short on toys and had to seek the assistance of Toys for Tots to help us and we are very grateful for their willingness to help support us. If it had not been for Toys for Tots, we would not have met the need for the number of kids that we had promised to help last year,” she said.
Locally, the age range for Angel Tree gifts has narrowed considerably compared to past years.
“I have always tried to go up to age 17, but the last couple of years I’ve had to cut that down. Three years ago I went down to 14 and two years ago I went down to age 12 because in these tough economic times, teenagers want more expensive things. They want the iPods and more expensive electronic items,” she said.