SARASOTA (WWSB) - During the holidays, there’s a great need fulfilled by The Salvation Army every year. But this year, that need is more than 40 percent higher in Manatee County and it could be a direct affect of red tide.
Thursday, 20 volunteers were hard at work to assemble more than 2,600 bags full of toys and clothes by December 18th.
But for volunteers like Evelyn Wildgust, it’s an effort that means nearly as much to her as it does to the families that these bags will be distributed to.
“I learn the spirit of giving through them," she said.
For the 9th year in a row, Wildgust gathered the toys that were listed on each one of the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree tags.
She said she is moved by the generosity of the community.
“We’re not there to criticize or judge a situation, we’re just here to help them and to give them some hope and hope comes through Jesus Christ," she said. "But it also comes in the form of physical things during Christmas time.”
Each year, families living below the poverty line in Manatee County are invited to sign up for the Angel Tree and Adopt-A-Family programs through The Salvation Army.
Last year, the parents of 1,820 children signed up. This year, there are 800 more. It’s a 44 percent increase, but why?
“There are two things that I think are big contributors. I think wages are not keeping up with rent," said Kelly French, director of development for community relations at The Salvation Army in Manatee County. "Then, there was also red tide that hit late summer where it was really affecting us. We have a lot of people who work out on the island, either in the hotels or the restaurants, where their wages were really cut.”
Though the donations are pouring in, The Salvation Army said the need is still substantial.
“We have a lot of wonderful gifts for the newborns, but for those 10 to 12-year-olds, those names tend to stay on the tree a little longer and we have to go into our toy shop and really dig for toys for them," French explained. "That’s a lot more challenging.”
There are 25 locations that have partnered with The Salvation Army in and around Bradenton to host the Angel Tree tags.
“This one is for a 7-year-old girl," French showed. "Her big need is clothing and shoes, but she would also like to have a fishing pole, and barbie accessories!”
Anyone who would like to donate can pick up a tag at one of the participating locations, then buy the items on the tag and return them to the location where that tag was picked up. The Salvation Army will then pick the items up from there.
For a full list of participating locations, click here.
For more information about the Angel Tree program, click here.