Community Comes Together to Help Rescue Christmas

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As the COVID pandemic began to dominate 2019 back in March, Major Kris Wood of the Salvation Army of Washtenaw County knew it was going to be a very challenging year for the community’s most vulnerable citizens.

By April, the Salvation Army had become inundated with requests for help with food, rent, utilities, prescription assistance and more. Volunteers and employees worked tirelessly to help those in need, but as the holiday season loomed ahead, they knew they had to do something more.

The Salvation Army relies on its red-kettle campaign donations and Angel Tree program (trees located throughout Briarwood Mall, Sam’s Club and the Saline Walmart that are decorated with wish lists from area children in need) to raise enough money to help community members during the holidays. But with store traffic and red-kettle donations down, the charity had to think of ways to adapt to ensure support was available for those who needed it.

At the same time, applications for Christmas toy assistance for local children had begun to flood into the Salvation Army. Community members who were faced with choices between things like paying rent or buying Christmas presents for their children, were forced to ask for help.

“This year, The Salvation Army of Washtenaw County received toy requests for more than 1,000 kids - an increase of nearly 50% from last year,” said Major Kris Wood. “Because of the decrease in toys donated from our Angel Tree program, we knew we needed to get creative.”

Determined to provide the support they are known for, the Salvation Army decided to kick off their Red Kettle campaign earlier than ever before in the past 130 years and launched a Virtual Angel Tree Program that allowed donors to adopt and ship gifts from their home or workplace.

“When I come into work and see our senior citizens standing in line for our food pantry, it hits me hard every time,” Major Wood told 107.1FM radio personality Martin Bandyke. “We saw a 37% increase in people coming into our food pantry every week and the urgency for food was very real. People were depending on us. Going into the holiday season I was worried, but deep down I knew our community would come through to help.”

While Salvation Army staff and volunteers worked day and night to spread the word that they needed help, the community did indeed rise to the challenge.

The Dexter/Chelsea area alone made huge strides in helping fulfil the needs of those in crisis and included such efforts as the Chelsea Fire Department hosting a fundraiser that resulted in $2,356 - the most dollars raised in one day. The Dexter Rotary Club bell rang outside of Busch’s, raising more than $1,000 and the Dexter Beer Grotto hosted a toy drive enabling them to donate hundreds of toys.

These efforts combined with support across the entire community allowed the Salvation Army to provide food and support to everyone who came to them for help. While donations are still currently being counted, the Salvation Army of Washtenaw County has raised more funds through their kettle donations than almost any other office in their division.

“This community always steps up to help meet the needs of their neighbors. You can’t say that in every community, but you absolutely can with the people of Washtenaw County.

Even with the success of their holiday season, the battle isn’t over for the Salvation Army. Funds raised throughout the year will offer a lifeline to families who before the pandemic were barely scraping by, but now have lost jobs, homes and hope. Every donation made stays within Washtenaw County and offers a lifeline to anyone that comes through the doors of the Salvation Army for help. To learn more visit WashtenawSA.org.

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