By TEDDYE SNELL
Angel trees have become synonymous with the holiday season, as people seek ways to give to others less fortunate.
The history of the concept is nebulous, with several entities laying claim, including The Salvation Army, Prison Fellowship and several civic groups in the deep south.
According to the Salvation Army website, the organization provided 4,763 angels with Christmas gifts in 2012.
Along with the familiar Red Kettles, the Angel Tree program is one of The Salvation Army’s highest profile Christmas efforts. Angel Tree was created by The Salvation Army in 1979 by Majors Charles and Shirley White when they worked with a Lynchburg, Virginia, shopping mall to provide clothing and toys for children at Christmas time.
The program got its name because the Whites identified the wishes of local children by writing their gift needs on Hallmark greeting cards that featured pictures of angels. They placed the cards on a Christmas tree at the mall to allow shoppers to select children to help. Thanks to the Whites, who were assigned by The Army to the Lynchburg area at the time, more than 700 children had a brighter Christmas that first year.
Three years later, when the Whites were transferred to Nashville, Tenn., Angel Tree was launched in the Music City. WSM radio, which airs the Grand Ol’ Opry, came on board that year as the first Angel Tree co-sponsor in the U.S.
Because of the on-air promotion on WSM in Nashville, as well as national publicity on CNN and the Larry King Show, news of Angel Tree spread across the country like wildfire.
According to the Prison Fellowship website, a donation of $12.25 will provide gifts to two children whose parents are incarcerated. The organization received matching grant funding to double the amount ($24.50). The site indicates 425,000 children need service, and about 2.7 million children have a mother or father serving time in prison.