WESTFIELD-Angel tags will once again grace a large “Angel Tree” inside the front entrance of Walmart on Springfield Road this holiday season, coordinated by Laurie Matthews, the Salvation Army’s unit coordinator for Westfield.
“Due to the coronavirus pandemic, we are expecting to see more families in need for gifts for their children this year,” said Matthews, who relies on her daughter, Lisa Benoit, to assist her with logistics.
Matthews noted that the local unit assisted 250 families last year and beginning this week, she and Benoit will start calling those families to determine if they are also in need of help this year.
“We know that some businesses did not reopen or had to lay off workers so we know it has been a tough year for a lot of people,” said Benoit. “Since COVID-19 has hurt a lot of people, we are hoping there will be others who will consider taking an angel tag with a child’s name, age and interests on it and fulfill those wishes.”
In 2019, 1,600 children received gifts from the local Salvation Army unit.
“Traditionally, we have taken all of the tags and divided them between donors, churches and businesses,” said Benoit. “This was a rough year and we know some businesses don’t have extra funds right now.”
Benoit said there are several options for area residents who would like to make a child’s Christmas season a bit brighter.
“We will have angel tags at Walmart and we will also have large boxes where unwrapped, new toys can be dropped off at St. Joseph’s National Catholic Church on designated dates,” said Benoit.
Matthews noted that popular gifts that can be bought separately include Barbie dolls and baby dolls, matchbox cars, race cars, board games, Play-Doh, learning toys, puzzles and books.
“We are always short-handed for gifts for older kids,” said Matthews, adding that popular items range from perfume, cologne and bath and body sets, to fast food gift cards.
Matthews, who has been involved with Salvation Army for close to 20 years, said she knows some families in the city are struggling.
“We know COVID-19 has hurt people this year so if you need Christmas gifts for your children, we can try to help,” she said.
For families who have not requested assistance in the recent past, two dates have been set aside to register, observing social distancing and no contact protocols.
“We will have drive-in sign-up sessions on Nov. 2 from 5 – 7 p.m. and Nov. 4 from 2 – 4 p.m. in the back parking lot of St. Joseph’s on Clinton Avenue,” said Benoit.
Families will be asked to stay in their cars and wear masks and runners will be wearing masks and writing down all of the necessary information to process a request.
“Families will be asked to show proof of how many children they have from newborns to age 16, either with a birth certificate for each child or by providing Social Security numbers,” said Benoit.
For area residents who wish to brighten a child’s holiday season with gifts, several days have been set aside to drop off toys – Nov. 23-25 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., or from Dec. 14-21 from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., all at St. Joseph’s.
“The church doors will be locked so we ask donors to knock on the door and we will have large boxes designated for toys that ensures everyone is social distancing and there is no contact,” said Benoit, noting that for people shopping for a particular child from the Angel Tree, specific details will be provided on deadlines and how to drop off items.
“When families come to pick up their gifts it is done privately,” said Benoit.
In related news, Matthews said that the Salvation Army kettles will be in designated locations in the city, however, those sites and dates have not been finalized at press time. Additionally, the Salvation Army’s “biggest donor” for Thanksgiving turkeys is unable to help this year so the turkey program will not be conducted next month. Lastly, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the annual Candy Dash fundraiser in December cannot be conducted.