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GIVING BACK: Ways to help others this holiday season

Salvation Army Angel Christmas tree

This year's Salvation Army Angel Christmas tree is located at Gander RV in Oxford.

When Dara Murphy opened a women’s boutique in downtown Anniston three years ago, she named it after a woman she barely knew. The store — called Rosa Lee — is named after a homeless woman Murphy had met in New York City, who, despite having almost nothing, nonetheless possessed faith, peace, hope and love.

“The business is built on the foundation of Rosa Lee,” Murphy said. “To give to others, and to love and care for others — before yourself.”

When the store’s first Christmas rolled around in 2017, Murphy started a project to help those in need. She asked customers if they knew of people who could use some help for the holidays, and the store collected donations for seven or eight families.

In 2018, the project got a name — the White Bag Project — and people were invited to pick up a white shopping bag at the store and fill it with gifts for a local family.

“White stands for pureness, goodness and love — the reason for the Christmas season,” Murphy said.

This year, the White Bag Project is collecting donations for 20 families. The store’s customers nominated families, who were then interviewed by staff. The families’ wish lists include clothing (for children, men and women), a bathroom rug and toys — a bike helmet, Legos, video games, a drawing set.

“I believe that Christmas is for us all — not just kids. I prefer to give to everyone in the home — mom, dad, stepdad, grandmother. Whoever lives under that roof should have a joy-filled Christmas Day,” Murphy said.

Out-of-town customers also participate in the project and will ship gifts to the store. “We had a basketball goal just show up yesterday,” said store manager Ashlyn Harrell.

Anyone wishing to participate in the White Bag Project can pick up a white bag at the store, 11 E. 10th Street in downtown Anniston, and fill it with gifts (toys, clothing, blankets, toiletries, etc.). Donations need to be delivered to the store by Dec. 14. Call 256-282-7750 for more info.

“People want to be able to give, but a lot of us don’t know how to,” Murphy said. “This is one avenue they can use. We need to make it easy for people to give.”

SALVATION ARMY

The local Salvation Army’s annual Angel Tree program has 350 children on its list this year, according to Lt. Jennifer Graham. The program provides gifts for children in need. Pick an angel ornament off a Christmas tree; each angel contains information about a particular child, including gender, age, clothing sizes and gift wishes.

In years past, a large Angel Tree has been displayed at Quintard Mall, but because the mall is undergoing renovations, the Salvation Army couldn’t place its tree there this year.

Instead, officers and volunteers got on the phone. “Last year at the mall, people had left their names and contact information. We just went down the list calling people. It was a blessing in disguise. We are now partnering with new groups and businesses,” Graham said.

The Oxford Walmart called and offered to host an Angel Tree. Gander RV & Outdoors in Oxford is also hosting an Angel Tree, after partnering with the Salvation Army to feed 400 people at Thanksgiving.

And people who had adopted angels for years called the office to request angels for this year. “I would like to thank those faithful people,” Graham said.

To adopt an angel, visit the tree at the Oxford Walmart or Gander RV, 2772 U.S. Highway 78 E. Unwrapped gifts and monetary donations should be returned by Dec. 8-15 to the Salvation Army Chapel building, 15 West 4th St., Anniston.

The Salvation Army is also in need of volunteers to ring bells at its red kettles, where cash donations are collected through the holiday season. Several companies and civic organizations — Kiwanis, Rotary, the Anniston High School football team — have provided volunteer bellringers, but more are needed. To volunteer, call the Salvation Army office at 256-236-5643.

THE ARC

The Arc of Calhoun and Cleburne Counties serves people of all ages with intellectual/cognitive and other developmental disabilities. The group serves several independent adults and families with children who need a little extra help during the holidays.

“Some of our people have unique needs,” said outreach coordinator Pati Tiller. “We have one individual who has absolutely no family. We have some families who have more than one child with a disability. And other needs come first when you have a disability.”

The Arc also hosts Christmas parties for elementary, middle school and high school students in special education classes.

If you would like to adopt an adult, a family or a child this holiday season, or donate small gifts or funds for a Christmas party, contact the Arc at 256-236-2857.

COMMUNITY ENABLER

Community Enabler in Anniston provides food, clothing and utility assistance to those in need.  For Christmas, the organization also collects toys, then allows parents to come in and pick them out in the Toy House. This year, the group particularly needs gifts for teenagers.

“We hardly ever have anything for teenagers,” said director Maudine Holloway. Gift suggestions include inexpensive watches, makeup kits, nail polish, bath bombs, jewelry, footballs, basketballs, games, earbuds, a new sweater or gift cards.

“Our kids are not that picky. They are thankful for whatever they can get,” Holloway said.

Community Enabler is at 104 F St., Anniston, 256-237-6144.

Office hours are 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday (closed noon-1 p.m. for lunch). If you need to shop for gifts in the Toy House, it’s best to call and make an appointment. Donations can be dropped off anytime during office hours. “We will be open until Christmas Eve to make sure we have touched every young person,” Holloway said.

TOYS FOR TOTS

The annual Toys for Tots drive, organized by the Marine Corps League, is collecting toys for children up to age 13. Last year, the group distributed more than 10,000 toys to almost 1,500 children.

This year, the group is in particular need of stocking stuffers. “We’ve had to stop bagging up toys because we don’t have enough stocking stuffers — small gifts for $3-$5,” said Dave Grise, assistant coordinator for the local Toys for Tots. The group could also use some bicycles, he added.

Unwrapped toys can be dropped off Dec. 9-13 at 1810 Noble St. in downtown Anniston.

Applications to receive toys from Toys for Tots will be taken through Dec. 11, from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. weekdays, at 1810 Noble St. Applicants should bring a photo ID, Social Security cards for self and children, proof of income and proof of address. Call 256-452-5981 for more information.

CENTER OF CONCERN

All Saints Interfaith Center of Concern, a ministry of Catholic Social Services, provides financial assistance, food, clothing, furniture and basic household items to families in need.

For Christmas, the center holds a Holiday Stocking Program to provide the most basic of necessities to kids.

“A lot of other agencies do big-ticket items for kids, so we do basic, personal hygiene products — undershirts, underwear, socks, toothbrushes, little toys,” said director Beverly Hill. “It’s our way of helping parents out a little bit. A child can always use socks and things of that nature.”

The center just finished feeding more than 100 families for Thanksgiving. Its food pantry is well stocked at the moment, although non-perishable items are always welcome. The center could use household items like dishwashing detergent, paper towels and toilet tissue. They also welcome toothpaste and toothbrushes and, now that the weather is cold, are in need of coats, hats and gloves.

Donations for the Holiday Stocking Program and in general may be dropped off at the Center for Concern, 1513 Noble St. in downtown Anniston, between 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Thursday. For more information, call 256-236-7793.

CHRISTMAS CLEARING HOUSE

Interfaith Ministries of Calhoun County helps hundreds of families each year through its Christmas Clearing House ministry, which was started in 1962.

Eligible families receive gift cards so they can do their own shopping for toys, clothing and groceries.

If you’d like to help, donations can be mailed to Interfaith Ministries, Box 1444, Anniston AL 36202 (please write “Christmas Clearing House” on the memo line). You can also donate online at www.interfaithcalhoun.org. For more information, call 256-237-1472.

Lisa Davis is Features Editor of The Anniston Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555 or ldavis@annistonstar.com.

Features Editor Lisa Davis: 256-235-3555.