Salvation Army-1

A sign at the Salvation Army’s New Albany office provides information about applying for the Angel Tree program.

SOUTHERN INDIANA — The Salvation Army of Southern Indiana’s Angel Tree applications have opened earlier than usual this year, and the organization is expecting large numbers of applicants due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Catherine Fitzgerald, corps officer for the Salvation Army of Southern Indiana, the organization is expecting about 4,000 angels to be registered this year, and it will prepare for up to 5,000. Last year, 3,600 angels were registered in Southern Indiana, she said.

“There is nobody that hasn’t been affected [by the pandemic],” she said. “The low-wage families living month to month are the ones affected the most. For some families, if their income goes down 10%, they can make it, but for those living month to month and their income goes down even a little bit, that’s crisis mode.”

This year, the Salvation Army of Southern Indiana has switched to an online application system for the Angel Tree program because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Angel tree signups usually take place in late October and early November, but this year, signups started Oct. 12 and continue through Oct. 23. The organization is not accepting walk-ins for applications, but it is offering appointments with limited availability.

The Salvation Army of Southern Indiana serves six counties, including Floyd, Clark, Washington, Scott, Crawford and Harrison.

The Angel Tree program offers a number of services for families with children ages 16 or younger at Christmas, including toys, meals and clothing. Families will have the opportunity to “shop” for toys in coordination with Toys for Tots, and families receive both dry goods and gift cards for their Christmas meals.

“Christmas this year is going to be so important in encouraging people and giving them something to look forward to,” Fitzgerald said. “With the loneliness aspect of COVID and the mental health [effects], Christmas is an opportunity for people to reach out, to be encouraged, to be strengthened. To see families come together around Christmas means so much, even though I know it’s going to be a hard year and there’s a lot of need.”

Fitzgerald said it is important for applicants to register by the deadline.

“We scaled up to be ready to meet whatever need, and we don’t like to turn people away for Christmas, but we need them to sign up [by Oct. 23],” she said.

Registration is available at Families who are unable to apply online can call The Salvation Army New Albany Center of Hope at 812-944-1018.

The angels will be available to adopt starting Nov. 2. Online adoption will be available this year, but the Salvation Army will also be at the Green Tree Mall in Clarksville after Thanksgiving for Angel Tree adoptions.

Families will still be able to choose their own toys this year in early December. Although the Salvation Army was allowing 30 people every 15 minutes to “shop,” this year it will only be five people every 15 minutes, Fitzgerald said.

It might be the first year for many families to sign up for the Angel Tree program, she said.

“I want families to know that there’s no shame in signing up and saying this year might be first you’ve needed help,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t think Christmas should ever be a time that families are scraping together something for each other. I want to bless families and want to give back.”

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