Salvation Army Christmas efforts come to Clemmons

Published 12:10 am Thursday, December 21, 2023

CLEMMONS — Every year, through a massive donation effort, the Salvation Army ensures that young children wake up on Christmas morning to toys under the tree. The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools System has been getting in on the action for the last few years, and this time around, the packaging/distribution hub was set up in Clemmons.

On Dec. 13, cars lined a warehouse on Clementine Drive as the drivers awaited delivery of Christmas cheer from the army of volunteers assisting in the operation.

Salvation Army Area Commander Major Andrew Wiley said that that partnership with WS/FCS had been fruitful, as several volunteers had been out over the previous few days to help.

“It’s a drive-thru distribution,” Wiley said. “We wish them a merry Christmas (as they come through) and send them on their way. We do that to make it easier on the parents. Some of them are having to come take off from work to get their things. So we want to make things as quick as we can. Having volunteers like the school system makes that go smoothly.”

According to Wiley, the operation begins in early October. Families submit applications with their children’s information and wishlists. From there, the Salvation Army creates angel tags that donors from throughout the community can pick up and go Christmas shopping for.

“We produce a tag that we call angels that will have a family code number, and we do an alphabet for each child so they are not identifiable to the general public,” Wiley said. “Protecting their identity is key for us.

“(The shoppers) take that tag, and those items come in here, and then in the weeks leading up, we have volunteers in the warehouse who come through and make sure everything is age appropriate and every child is adequately taken care of.”

Sometimes, the Salvation Army has to supplement wishlists.

“Our goal is to have 3-4 toys per child, so the size of those will vary,” Wiley said. “As you get kids a little older, the value of what they want is a little more, but the size might be a little smaller.

“We will do some ordering as well. If a child does not get out on an angel tree, sometimes, it comes back, and we need to add a few things to it. Or, maybe somebody buys all the clothing, which is great; kids need that, but we also want to make sure that kids have toys.”

When it comes to toys, sometimes the wishlists are filled by outside organizations.

“Biker Trash Nation is a biker group that does drives all year long to raise money and bikes,” Wiley said. “Last Saturday, they rolled in here with 100 bikes to be matched up with children who are wanting bikes for Christmas.”

For Wiley, the operation is long and exhausting, but it will all be worth it on Christmas morning.

“Our goal is that on Christmas morning, every child that we service through this warehouse wakes up to a good Christmas,” Wiley said. “They don’t know where it comes from. They don’t need to know where it comes from. We just want to know that they are waking up on Christmas morning and that they have a good Christmas.

“On Christmas morning, I’ll sit in my recliner, exhausted from the season, but thinking about the children across the area, waking up excited about what is under their tree because of what went on in this warehouse.”

Brent Campbell, chief communications and external relations officer for the school system, is glad that they get to be a part of bringing the project to its Christmas conclusion because he knows from experience how impactful it can be.

“I was on the Salvation Army Christmas Board 12 years ago,” Campbell said. “I was familiar with this. When I heard they had a need, I pitched it to our team because I know how meaningful it is. It’s a great way to help give back.”

With a district of more than 50,000 students, Campbell can’t be certain just how many students in the system receive holiday assistance, but he knows it’s a lot.

“We know that this work impacts students and makes our families have things they don’t necessarily already have,” Campbell said. “That is why it is important for us to give back … We look for ways to partner with agencies that also partner with us and to help them give back to our students.”

On Dec. 13, Campbell expressed delight at being able to take part in the process where direct interaction occurs with families, but he acknowledged the supply chain takes a group effort.

“If you are outside, you see the families and how excited they are and what this means to them,” Campbells said. “If you are inside (packing), you know that is the end result.”

The entire project speaks to Campbell about the place where he lives.

“When you look at all these toys and everything that is here, that is pretty impactful to say, ‘Wow, what a gracious and kind community that we live in,'” Campbell said.

The communications and engagement team was just one group from the school system that also sent volunteers from other departments like the equity team and instructional services team.

“We brought a whole mix,” Campbell said.

If it’s true what they say, that it takes a village, then coming to Clemmons this year was the right idea.