Searching for angels in Clayton

By Ed Brock

For Debra Walker and her husband Anthony, Christmas is not necessarily merry.

With the cost of everything rising and the continuing recession, the Jonesboro couple finds it difficult to pay their bills and also provide presents for their three children ages 16, 11 and 9.

So they turn to the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program.

"With the help of the Angel Tree program we have been able to have a happy holiday and see our children smile," Walker said. "It's been a burden lifted from us with the help of the Salvation Army."

The 25-year-old Angel Tree program involves getting people to "adopt" a child from a needy family to provide them with Christmas presents. The program started earlier in November and Salvation Army Capts. Curt and Natalie Sayre, officers in charge of the Army's Jonesboro offices, have 1,450 children signed up as angels. That's an increase from the 1,235 children they helped last year, but the continuing economic recession is making this year's program more necessary and more challenging.

"Our goal is to help each one of those children. However, we are finding that some of our past sponsors are not in a position to help this year," Curt Sayre said.

There are still 200 Angels left to adopt, Curt Sayre said.

"We are distributing on Dec. 15 and 16 so we're getting down to the wire," Sayre said.

Natalie Sayre said that she is concerned also about the people who come in too late to apply for the program but whom they try to help anyway. Last year they collected enough toys to cover that extra need, Natalie Sayre said, but this year it's uncertain.

Walker said she doesn't know yet if her children have been adopted. They're asking for the usual items, video games, dolls and, most importantly, clothes.

"Whatever they get it's appreciated," Walker said.

The program gets its name from the fact that when a Salvation Army officer in a small West Virginia town started it the program involved putting angel tags on a Christmas tree in a public place with the needy children's name and information on them.

"Many locations have done away with trees and use solely corporate sponsorship," Natalie Sayre said. "While we have many organizations who sponsor groups of children, we do have several trees out in the community."

Those trees are at the Cracker Barrel on Southlake Plaza Drive in Morrow, the Golden Corral restaurant on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro, Georgia Power's Forest Park and Jonesboro offices and Clayton County's headquarters library on Battlecreek Road.

Meanwhile, the Salvation Army's other fund raising and charity projects are under way or about to begin. The famous Red Kettles and their accompanying bell-ringing attendants are out at various locations, and next week the Salvation Army will begin its canned food drive.

Some food donations have already been made, including more than 2,800 cans of food the Salvation Army received earlier this week from the students and faculty of Brown Elementary School.

The Salvation Army also distributed boxes of food to area families for Thanksgiving and will do the same for Christmas.

"Depending on the size of the family they either get a turkey or a roaster chicken," Curt Sayre said.

The Salvation Army's offices are at 130 Spring Street in Jonesboro. For more information on the Angel Tree or other programs, call Sayre at (770) 603-6258 ext. 6.