CH@T: Red Kettle, Angel Tree programs highlight Army’s upcoming season

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The Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons are extremely busy for the Salvation Army of Chatham County. This week, we speak with staff members and volunteers from the Army about activities within the organization and specifics about its November and December work, including Rebecca Sommer-Petersen (the Army’s local director), Jane Wrenn (who oversees the Salvation Army’s emergency financial assistance programs), and volunteers Gail Backof (advisory council chairperson) and her husband, Charlie (council member).

The approach of the holiday season means the program schedule for the Salvation Army is ramping up. But let’s start with a general question about the overall operation of the Salvation Army of Chatham County and what the operational picture looks like a few months into the tenure of new executive director Rebecca Sommer-Petersen and the reorganization. What changes have been implemented and in what ways is the Army serving Chatham County?

REBECCA SOMMER-PETERSEN, director: The Salvation Army Chatham County Service Unit has been serving the community since 1984. We have three major tasks that we provide and they are short-term needs, long-term needs and seasonal needs.

The Emergency Financial Assistance program provides help with rent, utilities, prescription medicines and clothing. We are always there to meet the needs of victims of disasters, such as fire, floods, etc.

The Pathway of Hope program serves long-term needs. This program works with families who have children under the age of 18 to identify what they need to change their lives for the better and help them to achieve their goals. Each family is unique with specific needs for resources and support, and we work closely with them to develop goals and see it through. We target a one-year plan for most families, but are there for support as long as they need.

And finally, seasonal needs help children and families that are less fortunate with toys, gifts, warm clothing and winter household needs. We have begun strategic planning and work to recover the momentum lost under COVID-19. We have established an active volunteer committee and are always looking to expand our Advisory Council.

Two of the Army’s flagship programs — the Red Kettle campaign, which helps fund much of your operation, and the Angel Tree program, which provides Christmas gifts for Chatham’s children in need — are taking place soon. When does the Red Kettle program start? And what will the operation look like in terms of numbers of locations, the dates, and the goals for this year? (And remind us how those funds are used.)

JANE WRENN, program services: The Red Kettle Campaign begins on Friday, Nov. 26. This year, we have six locations for red kettle stations: Siler City Walmart, North Chatham Walmart, Lowes Foods, Governors Club Food Lion, Pittsboro Food Lion and the Siler City Food Lion. Counter kettles will also be placed in businesses throughout Chatham County. Harris Teeter has a Round Up Program again for the support of The Salvation Army. All monies raised through our red kettles will stay in Chatham County and be utilized in the following year for financial assistance for county residents. Listen for the familiar bells of the season and please donate. Together, we can “Keep the Bell Ringing.”

How about with the Angel Tree program? How will it operate this year, and how can people who want to adopt Angels do that?

CHARLIE & GAIL BACKOF, volunteers: The Angel Tree Program provides hope to children and families who otherwise would have a sad Christmas. We serve Chatham County and work with school social workers and guidance counselors to identify children in the most need.

These children become our Angels, who are then adopted by generous people. Each Angel has a tag assigned, which lists relevant details about that child. The number one need is warm clothing and shoes. The number one wish is a bicycle. Last year, because of the pandemic we had limited numbers of Angels. This year, we hope to get back to the 2019 level of 1,000 Angels.

During October, we collected Angel applications and will distribute Angels tags this month of November. Collection and distribution take place at the National Guard Armory in Siler City. Many Angels are adopted through churches, businesses and individuals. If your church, business or you would like to adopt Angels, please contact our office at 919-542-1593 and speak with Donna Smith. Starting Nov. 15, drop boxes will be placed in each Chatham County Walmart for your convenience. It is so gratifying to hear stories in our communities that have been helped by our service unit. Together, we can continue to “Do The Most Good” for Chatham.

What about for people who’d just like to contribute to the Army’s work with a financial gift? How can they do that?

WRENN: Our service unit appreciates all donations but especially financial donations around the holiday season. We hope to serve 1,000 children this year and with your financial support, we can be sure all our Angels will be served. Financial donations can be mailed to The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 752, Pittsboro, N.C. 27312.

What makes the Army’s work in Chatham County unique?

SOMMER-PETERSEN: “Give someone a fish, feed them for a day; teach someone to fish, feed them for a lifetime,” said Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Most social service organizations provide immediate assistance or long-term support, but not both. The Salvation Army is unique in that we provide immediate help through our Emergency Financial Assistance program and long-term support through our Pathway of Hope Program. We serve a diverse culture in our county, and we do not discriminate.

And what’s ahead for 2022?

SOMMER-PETERSEN: In the new year of 2022, we hope to serve as many families and individuals as possible and adapt to the new normal. We look forward to continuing and expanding our partnerships with new and existing nonprofits, businesses and churches to address important issues in our county such as homelessness, hunger and chronic poverty.


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