Maj. Beth Sturdivant’s eyes were glistening with restrained tears.
The Salvation Army Mississippi Gulf Coast’s associate area commander was waiting to help load an Angel Tree gift that had especially touched her heart, and she wanted to be a part of it.
“We have a bed,” she said, smiling. “There’s a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old, and they both wanted a bed. We would have loved to have one for each, but they’re still little, so for right now, it should be good for both of them.
“The amazing thing is, there was a group of college-age volunteers who brought it in. It’s a complete bed, with sheets and pillowcases and everything. I mean, they are so young themselves, and they are taking care of this family.”
About 600 children from 209 families in Harrison County were getting blessed by strangers Tuesday as an Angel Tree distribution took place at the former Hancock Fabrics location on Pass Road.
Parents or guardians arrived according to scheduled times and gathered to hear a message and receive a prayer from Maj. Gary Sturdivant, area commander. After the prayer, the adults were asked to move their cars in line in the back of the building, where volunteers loaded their cars with their children’s gifts.
The Angel Tree program has been going on “for 40-plus years,” Beth Sturdivant said. Each year, the need-based program for children accepts registrations from parents and guardians. The children’s wish lists are put on paper angel ornaments on Angel Trees placed at various locations, and members of the public are invited to choose an “angel” for whom they will shop.
On Tuesday, about 40 volunteers were helping Salvation Army staff members distribute the gifts, which included bikes, board games, dolls and other delights, as well as more practical gifts. Those volunteers included not only locals but folks from New Orleans and from Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois.
And gifts are not all each family got.
“Each one gets a frozen turkey and a box of food,” Gary Sturdivant said.
Beth Sturdivant said that each box’s items include Christmas dinner items such as canned vegetables and cranberry sauce.
One of Beth Sturdivant’s most memorable Angel Tree moments involved a woman and her son.
The woman, who had cancer, could be off her oxygen for only a certain amount of time, but she went to the Salvation Army’s registration center to seek a gift for her son, who had leukemia. The son technically was too old for the Angel Tree program. So Sturdivant asked the woman what he wanted.
“She said he wanted a hat for Christmas because his head would get cold,” Sturdivant said. “I asked her what his favorite team was, and she said the Cowboys. Well, that was perfect because my husband is a huge Cowboys fan, so we took care of their Christmas for them ourselves.”