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She was one of the first 'angels' lifted up by the Salvation Army

Long before its official name, Salvation Army's 'Angel Tree' program has been helping families in Hampton Roads

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — It was 1984 when the partnership between the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program and 13News Now began, five years after the program first started in 1979.

The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program has been a part of the holiday season in Hampton Roads for more than four decades. 

Every Christmas, dozens of businesses, churches, companies, and others have put up an Angel Tree filled with tags that have clothing needs of children on them. People take a tag and shop for the need listed for a specific child.

Along with the familiar red kettles, the Angel Tree program is one of The Salvation Army’s highest-profile Christmas efforts.

Angel Tree was created by Lt. Colonels Charles White and Shirley White when they worked with a Lynchburg, Virginia shopping mall to provide clothing and toys for children during the Christmas season.

The program got its name because the Whites identified local children’s wishes by writing their gift needs on Hallmark greeting cards that featured angels’ pictures. They placed the cards on a Christmas tree at the mall to allow shoppers to select children to help. Thanks to the Whites, more than 700 children had a brighter Christmas that first year.

But long before it got its official name, the Salvation Army was still lifting angels up with holiday donations.

Carol Hernandez from Portsmouth was five years old when she and her mom were taken in by the organization. She remembers waking up to a stocking full of gifts one year.

“It meant to me that I was given an opportunity to have a Christmas I normally wouldn’t be able to have,” said Hernandez.

The gesture, year after year, changed the course of her life, but not because of the gifts. The Salvation Army would offer her mother a job, and Hernandez would grow up with a deeper understanding of compassion and hope. 

It's part of the reason she now has a loving home and family, and a thriving career decades later.

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