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Outpouring Helps Buoy ‘Angel Tree’

By LIBBY CUDMORE • Special to

Yes, there are more families in need of Christmas cheer. But Salvation Army Capt. Selah Bender can report, there are many more angels to help make
the season merry.

Take the Angel Tree program, where shoppers can pluck a tag off a tree with the name of a child in need of a Christmas present.

“We’ve had entire Angel Trees emptied almost as soon as we put them up,” Bender said. “We’ve had to go out and put more tags on them. We’ve had some really inspirational donors this year.”

The captain and her husband, David, six-year veterans of the Salvation Army, arrived in Oneonta in August from northern Kentucky in the midst of the COVID-19 threat, and had to adjust.

“Kettles have been a challenge since day one,” she said. “We weren’t sure we were going to be able to do them, but finally, the grocery stores all said yes.”

Getting volunteers also proved difficult, so Selah has put the form on “You can register for an hour or two, or if you’re a group, sign up for the whole day,” she said.

Volunteers have to wear a mask, have no COVID symptoms and step back when people drop money in the kettle, she said.

Some familiar faces have been recruited, including Nick Whitehead, who mans sites around Oneonta. But for those who looked forward to hearing him sing while he rings, new regulations have shushed him this season.

This year, the local post is hoping to raise $35,000, down from the usual $60,000. “Because we started late, we had people calling up to say they were bringing a check by,” she said.

In addition to throwing in your spare change, each kettle is outfitted with scan-code so you can make a donation directly using Google or Apple Pay. “It looks up your zip code and donates to the local Salvation Army.”

At Walmart, shoppers also have the option of rounding up their spare change at the checkout. “That’s great for people who are doing the curbside pickup,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of help this year.”

And with the abundance from the Angel Tree, families will still be able to collect toys for their children, but instead of in one large gathering, families will sign up for a time to pick up their gifts, and they will be loaded into the car.

Similarly, the annual holiday food baskets are being discontinued. “Our volunteers are so limited, and we don’t have the college students to help sort,” she said. “It was a hard decision to make.”

But the captain sees this as a blessing in disguise. “We’re directing the people who normally get a holiday basket to our food pantry,” she said. “It’s more of a bridge than just seeing them on one day, we can continue having conversations about their needs, and they have access to the food pantry more long-term.”

And they still have both frozen turkeys and store vouchers for turkeys for anyone who might need the centerpiece of their holiday meal.

Families can sign up online, and, like the toy distribution, food distributions are by drive-up only, by appointment.

“Anyone who needs food can get food,” she said.


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