Just about every year for more than 30 years, Connie Harms has shopped for gifts for children she's never met.

She may not know the recipients personally, but hopes the gifts will put smiles on their faces and help ensure they don't go withoutout at Christmastime. 

Harms is one of hundreds of area residents who participate in the Salvation Army Angel Tree program to provide gifts to needy children and seniors.

“It’s a tradition, and I love what the Salvation Army stands for, what they do in the community, and ... it’s a part of sharing the love of Christ with the unfortunate that haven’t had all that I’ve had,” Ms. Harms said.

Ms. Harms was among a crowd that gathered at the Broadway Square Mall on Friday morning to celebrate the kickoff to the annual toy drive and the unveiling of the Angel Tree Christmas tree, where residents will be able to pick up angel information, including first names of participants, their ages, gift wishes and suggested items for donors to consider purchasing. 

This year, more than 3,000 children and adults are signed up for the program. In addition to children, the angels also include many senior adults in need of some extra Christmas cheer.

“The need is definitely out there, and we need the community’s support to provide Christmas to these angels,” Maj. Doris Lawrence, Corps Officer of the Salvation Army said. “Not everybody is as blessed as other people, and without the help of the community, they may not even have a good Christmas.”

Maj. Lawrence said the Salvation Army Angel Tree Program also is important because it reminds the community there are people who may not be able to enjoy things many take for granted, such as Christmas gifts.

“So often ... we forget until we encounter someone who doesn’t have (something) or doesn’t have what our children may have,” Maj. Lawrence said. “Reality kind of sets in that this is real. This is in our neighborhood.”

Lindsey Galabeas, community and public relations coordinator at the Salvation Army, the program not only benefits the recipients, but there are rewards for those who give. 

“When you adopt an angel, you make them a part of your family,” Ms. Galabeas said. “You care about them. You get to know that person.”

To adopt an angel or to drop off gifts, residents can visit the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree station in from of J.C. Penny at Broadway Square Mall. The station operates from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day until Dec. 13, when the program ends. Donors also can go to the Salvation Army headquarters at 633 N Broadway Ave. 

“I would tell someone who is considering to give to definitely do it,” Galabeas said. “It’s such a rewarding experience to be able to think about someone other than yourself and the things that you want for Christmas. To think beyond even your own family and to be able to take care of others in Tyler and really make them a part of your family.”

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