Salvation Army spreads Christmas cheer

Jessica Johnson Staff Reporter

December 19, 2013

Salvation Army employees and volunteers, including a group of North Surry JROTC cadets and members of the Marine Corps League, gathered on Wednesday to spread Christmas cheer to needy local families — distributing bags of toys and clothing to 994 families in one day.

Col. John Bowes said he had 11 JROTC cadets working all day, with a group of 30 bused in at 2 p.m., for what has become an annual tradition for the group.

“The cadets love doing this, and it’s great to be able to get out and help. The community is so generous with their donations, and we are just happy to help out,” Bowes said, as his JROTC cadets each claimed a bag, eager to spread the joy of Christmas for each family who arrived.

Families were staggered throughout the day, each previously assigned a specific number, which was matched to a bag of toys upon their arrival. The numbers were called as each family arrived, a JROTC cadet would locate the numbered bag of toys, then help the family carry it to their cars. Depending on the number of children and types of items, some bags were of normal size, while other bags were almost as tall as the JROTC cadets.

A total of 994 families arrived throughout the day, Salvation Army Social Worker Christy Rippey explained, with 40 families scheduled to arrive every 15 minutes throughout the day. Bags of toys were lined up, numbered and arranged in sections, based on predetermined and planned time slots, with each family receiving a specific time to arrive and collect the gifts. With so many families in need, a situation that could easily turn into chaos was planned down to each detail, handling one family at a time as they arrived. “It has to be organized very carefully,” Rippey said.

Rippey speculated that even though “need is always great,” the number of families assisted by Salvation Army has remained steady. “We had a total of 2,516 families in all, and an average of three toys per kid,” Rippey explained. “Plus, some families have multiple children, so if you do the math there…there were a lot of donated toys.”

Toys distributed through Salvation Army are received from Angel Tree donations, Toys for Tots and other community organizations. In addition, the Salvation Army spends $10,000 buying toys, and another $10,000 in grant money for clothing purchase.

Rippey added that a common misconception many people have is that the Angel Tree donations are removed and redistributed among other children. “Everything put into the Angel Tree gifts goes to one child. We do not remove any items, only supplement with extra items, like the Toys for Tots toys.”

The Salvation Army Angel Tree program, along with the familiar red kettles, is a well-known Christmas donation effort that has run strong since 1979.

Bob and Debbie King with the Marine Corps League were on hand, assisting with the toy distribution. Debbie said she had worked up until midnight during the weekend, helping to organize all the toys received into bags, based on the families’ specific needs. Debbie added that many of the toys also come from Toys for Tots boxes the Marine Corps League places throughout the county.

“Wow, this is the best Christmas we’ve ever had,” one little boy exclaimed.

“Yeah, but that’s for you and your sisters, too. We have to share,” his mother reminded him.

The little boy’s eyes widened in excitement when he saw the size of the bag, so large two cadets almost struggled to pick up the stuffed-full bag of brand new toys and clothes.

“God bless you,” many parents said to the volunteers as they left with Christmas presents in tow.

“Ya’ll are awesome, you are helping me out with my son,” one father said, with a big smile.

“Let’s go, pick it up,” a female JROTC cadets exclaimed, encouraging her fellow cadets as more and more families arrived to pick up their Christmas gifts. “I’m going to work until the job gets done!”

Volunteer Jan Varney said this was her first year helping out with the Salvation Army toy distribution, and added that she was “so happy” to be there. “The community coming together is awesome — a real testament of the generosity of this area.”

Candi Gunter of Mount Airy said the experience added to true meaning of Christmas. It was Gunter’s second year volunteering, and she said she planned to come back each year.

Board member James Kemp watched over the distribution, along with Caroline Springthorpe and Salvation Army Board President Bill Inman.

“This is just wonderful, [Salvation Army Social Worker] Kristy is amazing and we are really pleased at how the community comes together to contribute to this effort, to help our needy families in this area,” Inman said.

Reach Jessica Johnson at or 719-1933.