An Army Of Volunteers

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December 27, 2018
Daily News-Record  12/24/18
HARRISONBURG — Today would likely be a stressful one for hundreds of families in the area as they prepare for Christmas morning.
But volunteers and donors helped to ensure presents are under the tree.
For two long weeks this month, 82-year-old Margie Miller weaved through rows of thousands of toys piled into the Rockingham County Fairgrounds’ exhibit hall filling bags for needy children.
The presents were picked up by parents on Dec. 13.
Miller said it’s emotional to see the parents eyes light up when the see the support of the community and Harrisonburg Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. She said many mothers and fathers wouldn’t have anything to give their children without the assistance.
“I enjoy seeing the parents ... the expressions on their faces. They really, really need [the help],” Miller said.
The Angel Tree program begins each year in early October, with parents or guardians submitting forms to the Harrisonburg Salvation Army.
With the request for gifts, the parents must produce birth certificates and proof of financial need.
When it was all said and done this year, the Salvation Army received requests for 1,130 children.
Additionally, the nonprofit received dozens of requests for Santa Sacks, which provide various items to needy seniors, including blankets and clothes.
Capt. John Blevins, who leads the local Salvation Army Corps, said there are many people in need in the Harrisonburg area.
“It’s a constant thing,” said Blevins, who oversaw his second Angel Tree program since moving to the Shenandoah Valley. “There is always going to be people in need.”
Children in need dream of waking up on Christmas Day, heading to the tree and finding wrapped gifts from Santa, he said, which is part of the Salvation Army’s mission to make that a reality. Blevins said children keep those memories as they grow up.
“The joy lasts forever,” he said, adding that many grow up and become Salvation Army volunteers.
To meet the need, it takes a generous community and an army of volunteers. This year, the community donated more than 12,000 toys.
Retired Harrisonburg fire chief Larry Shifflett is among those who volunteer.
Until his retirement two years ago, the 72-year-old took vacation at this time each year. Now he spends this time helping sort toys, something he began doing about a decade ago. After a few days on the job, he noticed many of the donated bicycles needed work. Although they were all new, some bikes had flat tires from sitting around or weren’t properly assembled.
Shifflett found his niche.
“It’s important that the bikes are safe for the kids to ride,” he said. “You have to make sure that wheel aren’t going to fall off.” Through the Angel Tree program, roughly 200 bikes will be donated to area children. Each bike, thanks to the city fire department, will come with a helmet. “It’s a good way to pay back to the community and you’re helping kids have a nice Christmas,” Shifflett said. Shifflett said he’s just one of many who pitch in.
Harrisonburg resident Faye Spitler, 72, has been volunteering since she was a child. Her grandfather, the late Charles Miller, was a major for the local Salvation Army.
Spitler said she was blessed to be able to give her children gifts each Christmas. However, she knows, not everyone is in the same position. “I like knowing the kids have something each year,” she said. In addition to the toys, each child received clothing. The parents also received a food basket that included a turkey and plenty of items for side dishes.