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VOL. 35 | NO. 49 | Friday, December 9, 2011

Angel Tree requests jump, help needed

By Hollie Deese

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Madison Rotroff, who requires 24-hour care, is one of many served by the Angel Tree program.

For nearly 30 years, people in Nashville have been able to pluck an angel from a tree at their local mall and buy a gift for the child on the back. Some are teenagers who know this may be the only toy they get this year. Others are toddlers who have yet to realize the significance of their name and parent’s request on the back of the small slip of paper.

And this year, there are more children than ever participating in the program – 17,000, an increase of more than 26 percent from 2010.

“This is the largest year in the history of Nashville Angel Tree for sure,” says Jennifer Eldridge, director of marketing for the Salvation Army Nashville Area Command. The last day to turn in specific angel toys was Dec. 3 and as of Dec. 6 they still had 2,000 angels with gifts unaccounted for.

The Toy Field held this week at LP Field and the toy drives being held at Daily’s Markets around Middle Tennessee should help close that number and pair the right toys with the “forgotten angels.”

It’s not too late

Donations of new toys for the Angel Tree program are being accepted until Dec. 15. Those toys will then be assigned to registered children who did not have their request met.

Monetary donations can be made online specifically for the program.
The sister “Angel Food Tree” program at Kroger is available until Dec. 17 and still has 3,500 unclaimed angels. Customers can buy food for a family by having $25 added to their grocery bill.

“We distribute Dec. 16, 19, 20 and 21 so the families can have them and choose whether they are going to wrap the gift,” says Jennifer Eldridge, director of marketing for the Salvation Army Nashville Area Command.

“We had to add an additional day for distribution this year because we have so many. We really need the help and support of the community to be able to serve all of the individual requests,” Eldridge adds.

“If our volunteers see a child in a family who didn’t get adopted, they will go shopping for that child in the forgotten toy shop and pick items that would fit that child,” Eldridge says, adding she is still nervous about having the resources to close that gap.

“It is a little scary this year because we don’t know until the last minute who didn’t get adopted,” she says.

A few years ago, some of those angels were the three children of Jessica Rotroff. A single mom, she can’t work because she is the fulltime caregiver to Madison, 6, ever since she was diagnosed with Celiac Disease and autoimmune disease at age 1. And it was at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital four years ago that Rotroff first encountered the Salvation Army.

“One of our case managers referred us to the Salvation Army, and ever since then they have followed us,” she says. “There is no cure for Madison’s disease so they have always been part of our family.”

Madison is restricted from sharing toys, being around too many people or germs and is not able to eat foods that contain gluten. She has a feeding tube connected to her stomach, which Rotroff needs to change for her. Her other children are 13 and 10.

“That Christmas four years ago when Madison was first diagnosed, times were so hard we would have had nothing if it wasn’t for the Angel Tree program,” she says. “Now it is a relationship with them.

“There have been times that we couldn’t adequately provide for Madison’s needs. We lost our house in the flood, and they helped us with furniture. Everyone hits low points in their lives and I am just truly thankful. I can’t even express how many ways they have helped my family.”

Rotroff and her family are now part of the Salvation Army’s Adopt-A-family program, which pairs companies with families to provide everyone in the house a wonderful Christmas. “We are more adjusted now than we were four years ago, but the Angel Tree and Adopt-A-Family program takes the stress away.”

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