Christmas is looking a lot brighter to some children and families thanks to the Salvation Army as it prepares for the upcoming holidays.
But a lot has to happen before kids can open their new toys and share a holiday meal with their families.
Salvation Army staff start planning for the Christmas season in August. They now are poised to kick off the Angel Tree program and annual kettle campaign, which begins Friday.
The Angel Tree program expects to help about 2,500 children this year, about 500 more than last year, said Maj. Deanna Sholin, Salvation Army corps officer. The nonprofit has seen an increase in need with the economic downturn, she said.
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The trees feature tags labeled with a child's toy request. They will appear at 18 locations throughout the Tri-Cities the day after Thanksgiving, with the main location at Columbia Center mall in Kennewick.
Colleen Miller, the Salvation Army's social services director, said about 515 families have been signed up to receive Angel Tree donations.
The nonprofit stopped accepting applications after the first week in November.
Families must meet income guidelines to be eligible for the holiday aid. In addition to a toy per child age 12 and under, each family will receive a box of food, Sholin said.
It's rare that the nonprofit turns a family down.
"Who wants to turn a child away at Christmas?" she said.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Tri-Cities have started the food drives that provide the most food given out in the holiday food boxes, Miller said. Last year, they provided 1,300 boxes, and this year's goal is 2,000.
Toys can be dropped off with the tag at the mall or the Angel Tree where the tag came from. All toys need to be unwrapped. The mall Angel Tree will be open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 7 p.m. Sundays.
The hardest group to get toys for is girls ages 10-12. Last year, the organization spent about $800 to provide toys for the girls.
The Salvation Army also helps groups, businesses or other families adopt a family in need for Christmas.
"It's my favorite part of Christmas here," Miller said.
Miller said almost 40 families have been adopted. Last year, 45 were adopted. The number of adopted families depends on how many the Salvation Army has sponsors for.
Adopted families receive gifts for all their children. Each parent also receives a gift, as well as items such as laundry detergent and wrapping paper.
Bell ringing for a cause
The holiday season also kicks off the Salvation Army's major fundraiser.
Bell-ringers will start the Salvation Army's red kettle campaign Friday at about 30 locations. Salvation Army corps officer Maj. David Sholin said the goal is to raise $170,000 for this year, $7,000 more than was raised last year.
That money represents about a fourth of the Mid-Columbia Salvation Army's budget, he said.
"Without a successful Christmas, it's very difficult to fund an entire year," he said.
The nonprofit's United Way money has decreased, which means it is more dependent on private donations to provide its services, which include utility and rent assistance, David Sholin said.
The nonprofit will pay about 50 unemployed people to ring bells. David Sholin said it gives those families a little money around Christmas.
The paid bell-ringers must undergo criminal background checks before they are hired.
The Salvation Army is longer no accepting applications for the positions. It's the earliest the nonprofit has closed the process, Deanna Sholin said.
The Kiwanis Clubs in the Tri-Cities area and the Tri-City Americans hockey team also have volunteered to ring bells, David Sholin said. They have about 75 volunteers, but could use more help.