One of the longest running, most beloved Loudoun County charities is our local The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. Longest running because it is believed to date back to the early 1900’s. Beloved, because it annually brings joy to more than 1,200 children and their families at Christmas in the form of new toys, clothing, books and shoes, AND because nothing puts a smile on the giver like knowing they are making a needy child happy. More than thirty local businesses and hundreds of local shoppers contribute, adopting “Angels” to join their own holiday lists.
Behind the scenes, it all happens through the extraordinary planning, organization, attention to detail, creativity and energy of small, loyal team, says Bonnie Inman, Director of Development . It’s so extraordinary, in fact, that Loudoun Care’s annual Outstanding Volunteer Awards gave this group top honors for adult volunteer group of the year.
Just two Salvation Army staff members, social workers Kym Carrier and Keysha Miller, work with longtime volunteer Marcey Kellogg, warehouse coordinator Karen Reed and volunteer coordinator Grace Winter. Families first apply to have their Christmas lists adopted online. Children 12 years old or younger whose families earn 40% less than the area median income, are eligible. The list opened on September 12 and was already oversubscribed by the end of the month. Kym and Keysha screen the applicants and then make their list, including both wished for and needed items. To give each child 4-5 items means more than 5,500 presents are collected between November 1 and the middle of December. But first, each angel needs a sponsor.
Local companies and organizations step up, each adopting a group of Angels. Multiple family sponsors include Ashburn Village Sports Pavilion, Brambleton Community Association, Casey’s Automotive Sterling, Catoctin School of Music, DHL, Dulles Motor Cars, Harmony United Methodist Church, Holder Construction, Inova, Karter Montessori of South Riding, Karter School of Cascades, South Riding Kindercare, Leesburg United Methodist Church, Morningside House of Leesburg, One Loudoun Neighborhood Association, Rosedin Electric; SMA Data Products Group, Inc.; The Virginia Institute of Surgical Arts, Town of Leesburg and Winter’s Angels. More are always welcome. So that no child is left out, on November 1, any remaining Angels on the list are released to the public.
Walmart is a special partner for the charity, as it provides both an online registry and an in-store tree and donation boxes where people either can shop for an individual Angel using a tag with the child’s name, photo and gift list, or just donate individual items from multiple children’s lists. (Barbie Dream Houses and bicycles are perennial favorites.) My Guys Moving & Storage also regularly pitches in, collecting from all the company participants and delivering the presents to The Salvation Army’s Leesburg Warehouse. “That takes a whole day because we fill up a whole moving van,” Kym says. “Loudoun is a very giving county.” (Check out the video the team made last year of My Guys Moving collection day: https://bit.ly/ATreeVideo.)
Individuals and other groups who adopt Angels then bring new, unwrapped, labeled toys and clothes to a store-front collection point at the Village at Leesburg at 1606 Village Market Blvd, SE, #C-115 (the plaza that hosts the Leesburg Farmer’s Market). For the third year, Rappaport, the leasing company for Village of Leesburg, has donated the space for the project’s distribution center. The drop-off site worked so well during Covid that the same space also is used to distribute bags and other items to families after they’re inspected and organized at the warehouse.
As Karen describes the warehouse process, each family receives a number and each child in the family a letter matched to the master list. Each family is assigned a 2-ft square box where items are collected and bagged with a separate section for larger items. When each Angel’s donation is lined up, it is easy to spot children who might have been forgotten or might need additional attention, Karen explains. “That’s partly where the Walmart list comes in. We will take those items and kind of pad up each box so that every child when they wake up on Christmas morning really feels like they were well cared for.”
Individuals, groups, Girl Scout troops, businesses, and whole neighborhoods sponsor Angels, says Grace, but the program does more than just help needy families. “This event is not just about supporting these families but helping the community to rally together. You learn about volunteering and how we all help each other. We work with a lot of young volunteers and many change their whole life path because they realize how much giving their time can impact someone else,” she said. Grace will be posting a “Sign-up Genius” volunteer link shortly, so make a point of getting your kids involved too, Marcey added. “Every year we’ll see kids show up with their faces in their cell phones, who might prefer to be somewhere else, but after a half an hour you’ll see huge smiles on their faces as they race around asking what else they can do.”
Making it a family tradition adds meaning to the holidays, Grace adds. “In my family as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are cleared away we’re combing through the toy circulars in the paper!”
But shop early! All items need to be collected from givers by around December 10th for distribution to the families by the 16th or 17th. Angels may be adopted from https://bit.ly/AngelTreeLoudoun or via the local Walmart Registry which will be listed on this page: https://salvationarmypotomac.org/loudouncountycorps/rescuechristmasloudoun/. If you want to adopt 10 or more Angels or have questions, call 701-771-3371, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.