While Christmas comes at the end of the calendar year for most, it starts in October for The Salvation Army officers, staff and volunteers. That’s when Oak Park-native Cora Burton, long-time volunteer at The Salvation Army Norridge Corps Community Center, starts recruiting area corporate and community partners to support the Angel Tree program. The program provides Christmas gifts for area families who would otherwise not be able to afford them. Families also receive a Christmas dinner box.
“My letters to companies requesting their support go out October 1,” Burton said. “Then I’ll make follow-up phone calls in a few weeks.” Burton, who has run the program for nine years, has this process down to a science. This season, she sent out more than 3,400 Angel Tree tags with wishlists to 90 different businesses and individuals. “This year we’ve had a lot of new donors in the program. That always makes me happy.”
Once the letters to companies and other donors have gone out, Burton turns her attention to recruiting volunteers to help with the distribution of the Christmas gifts. Those letters go out November 1 and ask volunteers to donate their time to set up the Toy Shop or serve as shopping assistants. She usually ends up with about 100 volunteers. “We need about 50 or 60 volunteers for the first two day to set up the Toy Shop,” Burton said. “Those two days are absolute madness, but it is so wonderful. People are so happy.”
Every year the Norridge Corps invites families who have registered for the Christmas assistance program to come in and shop for their families’ gifts. The experience is similar to a personal shopping trip. Clients are greeted at the door and checked in. While waiting for their shopping assistant, clients can visit the prayer room where they can light a candle, meditate or pray. After that, clients are escorted into the gym where they can shop for gifts for their children, selecting from toys, puzzles, clothing and more. As they leave, they are given a Christmas dinner box with a turkey or ham, potatoes, vegetables, biscuits and desserts.
“The entire experience highlights humanity’s generosity,” said Burton. “We usually have an abundance of items left over, and we’re able to share them with some of the other Salvation Army locations in the city.”
One of Burton’s favorite memories was when the Army was able to provide a bicycle for a young boy. “We have a member here who makes bicycles and offered to make one or two for the Toy Shop,” she said. “When he brought it in for the family, he apologized that it was purple, but the mother said that was her son’s favorite color. You know, every year we have an ‘ah-ha’ moment when we know the Lord touches us. Those are what makes all of this worth every minute of work.”
This year, Burton will be overseeing the Toy Shop set up on Tuesday and Wednesday, December 12 and 13. Clients will select their items and pick up their dinner box on Thursday and Friday, December 14 and 15. State Senator Mulroe will serve as a shopping assistant on Friday morning.
Burton volunteers all year long for the Norridge Corps, helping in the food pantry and counting the money donated to the iconic red kettles.
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