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Salvation Army seeks Christmas 'angels' for underprivileged kids

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 12:22 a.m.
Salvation Army Captain Elvie Carter staples additional 'Angel' tags to a board of children's names that qualified for the Christmas Toy Assistance Program at the Salvation Army Citadel in New Kensington on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Salvation Army Captain Elvie Carter stacks toys to be given to children that qualified for the Christmas Toy Assistance Program at the Salvation Army Citadel in New Kensington on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012. Each gift must be loosely attached to the 'Angel' tag displayed on the bulletin board at the Salvation Army Citadel. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

With Christmas about three weeks away, Capt. Elvie Carter, Salvation Army commander in New Kensington and Vandergrift, is getting worried.

Worrying at this time of year is nothing unusual for Carter. He heads the annual effort to bring Christmas food and gifts to hundreds of less fortunate people throughout the region, and there's always concern that someone will be left out.

This year about 50 “Angel” tags remain unclaimed, as of Wednesday, in the Salvation Army citadel at Fifth Avenue and 11th Street in New Kensington.

Each Angel bears the name and age of an underprivileged child eligible to receive toys and gifts from donors, who may not receive any gifts otherwise.

“We are trying to work with companies and maybe individuals who wouldn't mind buying a gift for a kid,” Carter said. Carter is hoping that the Alle-Kiski Valley's more fortunate residents will stop by the Salvation Army and pick up a tag that bears the name of a needy child.

So far, there are about 580 children signed up for Christmas assistance on the Westmoreland County side of the Allegheny River, Carter said.

“We are going to continue to sign people up all the way through Christmas Eve,” he said. “The need is greater this year than the previous year.”

At one point, Carter said there were as many as 119 Angel tags unclaimed but people keep coming to the rescue.

Farmland Foods employees pitch in

Some of those people work at Farmland Foods in Arnold, formerly North Side Foods.

“We took 30 last week and 10 this week and we have all but three distributed and we'll probably get those out today,” Colleen McConnaughey, human resources director at Farmland said Wednesday. “Some of our employees take as many as six. Last year we did 35 and we actually ran out.”

She said the plant, which employs about 200 people, has been involved with the Salvation Army program for about 17 or 18 years. It's done through the employees' Community Action Committee, which helps with other charitable causes and civic projects.

“Some employees, this is what their family does for Christmas,” McConnaughey said. “Instead of exchanging gifts, they do the Salvation Army Treasures for Children.”

“If they have a 9-year-old at home, they'll try to pick out a tag for a 9-year-old and then take their child to help pick out a present — make it a family event,” she said. “We have an employee who gets a tag for each one of her children.

“If they normally get six gifts, they'll each get five — and give up a gift so that somebody else can have one.”

A family's story

All those efforts and sentiments are deeply appreciated, according to Tesha Berry of New Kensington.

Berry, 28, and her husband Michael, 33, have five children and she is expecting a sixth. But like many Americans, the Berrys have been experiencing some tough times. They lost their home when the house they were renting was foreclosed upon and got only two days notice to vacate the premises.

Out of desperation they bought a house in the 1200 block of Kenneth Avenue that has proven to be a money pit, needing essentials such as a new furnace and water heater.

After not being able to land a steady job, Berry said her husband now has steady work as a truck driver. But most of their income goes to catching up on bills and making home repairs.

“Our money has just been going to keep a roof over our heads,“ she said.

That leaves little extra money to buy Christmas presents for their son and four daughters, who range in age from 1 to 13.

But she said the Salvation Army has stepped up for the family.

“If it wasn't for them, my kids wouldn't have a Christmas,” Tesha Berry said. “Every kid deserves to wake up on Christmas and see their names on two or three gifts.

“I would hate to see my kids waking up on Christmas with nothing for them,” she said.

Which leads back to why Capt. Elvie Carter worries.

“What we don't want to happen is: we don't want people who are expecting gifts and they come in and we tell them we were not able to do it because nobody picked up their child's tag,” Carter said. “Once the need has been established, we verify that the Salvation Army is going to come through.”

He hopes that more companies and individuals will come forward to help with the effort so that no child is overlooked.

Among other companies that have gotten involved with the effort are Alcoa, which took 175 Angel tags, Siemens, which took 75 and Computer Savers of Lower Burrell, which took 25.McConnaughey said she would be glad to help officials from other companies set up similar employee committees and become involved in the Salvation Army effort. She can be reached at Farmland Foods in Arnold.

“It creates a unity among all the employees in the company whether you are maintenance or production because everyone gets involved,” she said. “I would never think of not doing it because I am sure they would be asking where the tags are.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or

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