Without the Salvation Army's Angel Tree program, some parents would have nothing to give their children for Christmas, said Marliena Brinkman.
The 26-year-old mom has a husband with no job and no money, but on Tuesday she got new clothes and toys to give to her 2-year-old daughter and her unborn child who is due in January.
Brinkman's husband, Theral Hatchett, lost his job at Pilgrim's Pride six months ago.
Brinkman's family is among 4,763 families in Cleveland, Tenn., and Chattanooga that include children and seniors for whom the Salvation Army provided Christmas gifts through its Angel Tree ministry. The Salvation Army also gave each family a Bi-Lo gift card to buy Christmas dinner.
Local residents donated gifts for the families. And families came to the Salvation Army Angel Tree warehouse Tuesday and will come today to get the gifts.
"We want people to know that there is a community, an army of people who care about them despite their circumstances and that their life is valuable," said the Rev. Wesley Odum, Salvation Army volunteer and pastor of Dynamic Church.
Tim Childers leaned on the wall, smiling, while waiting in line at the warehouse to get toys for his three boys.
"Thank you," he said, smiling at any volunteer who made eye contact. "Without this they would not have had much of a Christmas," he said.
Salvation Army volunteer Lansing Hamilton has distributed gifts to families for nearly 20 years. She said she hopes people who come to the warehouse see God's love for them.
"Life is just so hard," she said.
A parent with four or five kids could get so busy trying to make ends meet or be hurting so bad that she can't see or feel God, said Hamilton.
"When they come here maybe they will think, 'if these people care to give gifts to my children, maybe they do believe in a God who loves me.'"
The warehouse also included 575 bicycles. More than 100 of them were donated by the Dynamic Church, which meets at the Hamilton Place YMCA.
The church is only three months old, but it led a campaign to get bikes for children. Odum, the church pastor, stood for 24 hours 30 feet above ground in a forklift at Walmart asking people to buy bicycles for children.
"I called it the pulpit in the sky," said Kimberly George, Salvation Army's director of marketing and development. George noted that the church, with less than 100 members, gave the single largest donation of bikes this year.
Odum said his intention is not to just build a church, but a community.
"We want to roll up our sleeves and get involved," he said. "We are compelled by the love and grace of Christ who gave us love we did not deserve. So we want to meet the needs of others."
Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...